Fans of college basketball know the heartbreak of watching young talent come through, join their favorite team and then depart after four years. However, there is a noticeable pattern of Mercer alumni coming back to fill coaching positions for their former teams.
For former Mercer Women’s Basketball point guard Sydni Means, this did not seem like it would be the case. The now assistant coach for the Bears originally planned on playing overseas and that’s what she had told her coach as well.
“We didn’t talk about this at all prior,” Means said about taking a coaching position.
The idea of offering Means the job came to head coach Susie Gardner while the graduating point guard was giving her speech at the Toby’s, Mercer’s annual sports awards ceremony.
“I didn’t even think she wanted to coach,” Gardner said.
However, that didn’t stop Gardner from offering the position, saying that Means could provide a valuable role to the team mostly in part due to her very recent status as a player.
“Sydni has the intangibles that other coaches on my staff don’t,” Gardner said. “For example, I wanted us to have better alumni relations with former women’s basketball players. Well, who better to handle alumni relations than an alum?”
To Gardner’s surprise, Means accepted the role, despite all the previous talk they had of Means traveling overseas to continue her career as a professional player. As it turns out, she had always planned on becoming a coach sometime in her life.
“This is a long-term dream job for me, and it just came sooner than I expected,” Means said.
Even though she is only on her second month of coaching, Means said she plans on sticking with it for the long haul.
What made Means a perfect fit as an assistant coach in Gardner’s words is that she is someone who can market the games to the fans. Gardner hopes Means’ popularity on campus will help bring in more students as well.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes,” Means said. “There’s a lot of stuff on the court and a lot of stuff off the court.”
Even with a brand new load of responsibilities in her role as an assistant coach, Gardner testified for Means that she has stepped up to the role with little problem.
“She’s hit the ground running,” Gardner said. “It’s been a very easy transition.”
With several stars having graduated from Mercer, Means will have to tutor the next generation of Lady Bears, including two freshman point guards who will be filling Means’ former role.
“We lost key pieces last year but we also still have the core of what we had last year,” Means said, citing four starting players who will be returning next season.
Means said she was originally nervous because she didn’t know how some of her former teammates would take being coached by her, but as she’s worked with them those worries disappeared after the team had their first couple weeks of practice and has given her respect in her new position.
Means was always a leader for her team, so becoming a coach was a lot more natural than she had expected.
“Being a point guard you kind of have to be a coach on the court,” Means said. “When Coach Gardner hired me that’s kind of what she was saying, ‘I want you to be able to lead our point guards now’.”
Gardner and Means said they didn’t want to make any early predictions about how the season will play, but both of them said they understand that a lot of attention will be put on the team due to how well they performed, making it all the way to the NCAA tournament. Means said she believes these new players can take up the mantle.
“I’m super excited for these freshmen because they are super talented,” she said. “I have nothing but good things to say about it all.”
When the new season starts, these new players will have support from an assistant coach who not too long ago was in their very same shoes.
“I hung up the shoes, but I get to put on the whistle now,” Means said.