Archdeacon: Basketball for Wright State’s Nagys a family affair

If you didn’t know better you’d think the Nagys don’t listen to their fathers.

With just under 30 seconds left in a December game against Mississippi Valley State – a romp where Wright State was leading by 40 points – Andy Neff rebounded a Delta Devils’ miss and threw an outlet pass to fellow walk-on TJ Nagy.

The WSU freshman guard immediately began driving up the court, intent on scoring the first two points of his college career and making amends for four straight free throws he’d missed earlier.

As TJ put a spin move on a defender, his dad – WSU head coach Scott Nagy – was in front of the Raiders’ bench yelling, “Stop!..Stop!…Stop!”

So was TJ’s older brother Nick, an administrative assistant with the team.

They just wanted to run out the clock with some sportsmanship.

“I had no idea the shot clock was off and I couldn’t hear my dad,” TJ recalled the other day. “I was focused and wanted to score so bad.”

After the spin, he momentarily lost control of the ball near the baseline, got it back and in a scrum with three defenders, flicked a fade-away shot that rattled in for the final two points of a 92-50 Raiders’ victory.

When TJ scored, the Raiders bench erupted. Big Grant Basile was on his feet waving a towel over his head and high-scoring senior guard Bill Wampler was rocking back on one leg in joyous celebration as other teammates jumped and cheered alongside him.

Scott now admits he too was moved: “It was fun for TJ and for me as a dad. And, as a coach, when those (walk-on) guys get to do well, it makes everyone happy.”

Nick said he had been “pretty nervous” as his brother was roaring toward the knot of defenders: “When he made the shot, I was so pumped for him. It was awesome.”

As for TJ blowing through his “Stop!” sign, Scott couldn’t be upset. No one has turned a deaf ear to his dad more than him.

Dick Nagy, Scott’s father, was a longtime college coach. After two community college jobs, he spent 17 years as an assistant at Illinois and five at UIC.

A self-admitted “glass-half-empty” guy — even after going to the 14 NCAA Tournaments with the Illini, including a 1987 trip to the Final Four – Dick knows the downside of the job:

The heartache, the pressure, the toll coaching can take on family life.

Not wanting his son to follow in his footsteps, he pushed Scott to get a business management degree while he was starring in basketball at Delta State in Mississippi.

“My dad tried to stop me from coaching,” smiled Scott, who headed straight to Illinois after college and became a grad assistant coach. Then came a pair of assistant jobs, followed by 21 years as the head coach at South Dakota State and now four at Wright State, the last three of which he’s been named the Horizon League Coach of the Year.

He won his 500th game on Feb. 22 when the Raiders edged Cleveland State, 81-74, in overtime.

WSU – now 25-6 – won its first ever outright Horizon League title this season and got the No. 1 seed in the league tournament. That gave them a bye into a semifinal game Monday night at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.

In his 25 years as a head coach, Scott has never had a season like this one thanks to Nick and TJ sharing the bench with him.

“It’s definitely a family affair,” Nick said. “But basketball has always been in the Nagy blood.”

Even so, Dick never coached Scott. And Scott, except for some peewee football, never coached his boys – and that includes another son, Tyler, who played at Wayne State – until TJ joined his team.

“My dad never really wanted to coach any of us,” TJ said.

That changed after TJ finished his basketball career at Bellbrook High and admitted – after being around his dad’s teams since he was a kid – that he wanted to be a coach, too.

“I don’t want to talk my boys out of what they want to do,” Scott said.

TJ remembered his dad’s response: “He was telling me what paths I could take and he said I could be a walk-on or the team manager. I hadn’t even thought that was an option, but I said I wanted to be a walk-on.”

Scott now admits he had “concerns as a dad and as a coach.”

He told TJ: “’Number one, you need to be able to help us. I’m not putting you on the team just to be on the team.’

“My other concern was whether guys on the team would see him as a teammate rather than the coach’s son.

“And I knew if you’re going to coach your son, it works best if everyone can see he’s either the best player on the team or he’s in the role that TJ is now.”

By that he meant an end-of-the-bench walk-on who has played in just eight games this season.

“I feel like anything in between would be really hard on everybody,” Scott said. “If your kid was the fourth, fifth or sixth leading scorer, there would be questions whether he should be playing as much as he is or more. You can err on either side.

“But we’ve been in a good spot because TJ knows his role. He’s handled it well and I‘m proud of him.”

‘Thick skin’

After his career ended at Brookings High in South Dakota, Nick set aside basketball and headed to the University of Mississippi, where he got a psychology degree and met his wife to be, Jordan.

Graduating from Ole Miss a month after his dad took the WSU job, Nick came to Ohio and got his master’s in sports psychology at Miami University. He and Jordan wed in 2018 and in July they’re expecting a baby girl.

Three seasons ago Nick joined the WSU staff as an administrative assistant.

Meanwhile, TJ was finishing at Bellbrook while dealing with POTS, a troubling medical condition that affects blood circulation. Examined at places like the Mayo Clinic, he has a better handle on the situation though it still leaves him fatigued with headaches and aching muscles and other symptoms that are especially prevalent in the mornings.

TJ said his grandpa, who is retired and lives in Illinois though he’s at many WSU games – sitting behind the bench or pacing and grimacing, the curse of glass-half-empty guys – initially advised him not to be a walk-on because he knew how tough it would be.

And Nick admits he “worried” about TJ joining the team, as well.

He knew his brother would have to have “thick skin” in the dressing room because it’s natural for players to sometimes grouse about the coach.

TJ, who rooms with fellow freshman Tanner Holden, said he got some good-natured teasing early, but nothing worse: “I don’t think they see me that much as the coach’s son. And they don’t look at me as someone who’s going to rat them out. They are my team – my family.”

He’s had one problem though.

“I will say I never call him ‘Dad’ or ‘Coach’ in practice,” TJ said with a smile. “Neither one sounded quite right for me.”

‘Through the wringer’

Scott said he worried his sons might think coaching is “easier than it really is” because the team has been doing well lately. But he realized Nick has seen the flip side, too:

“He was probably in the sixth or seventh grade or so when things weren’t very good at South Dakota State. That’s when we were making the transition (from NCAA Division II to D-I.) It was hard on the whole family.”

After making eight NCAA Division II Tournaments in nine years, SDSU jumped up in class and had six straight losing seasons. One year they won just six games. There were seasons where they had 24, 21, 20 and 20 losses.

“We went through the wringer and I remember when we finally won our first tournament game – we were a 7 seed and we beat No. 2 Oral Roberts – I looked over and Nick was crying. It had been that hard on everybody.”

And that’s why both sons were so overjoyed when their dad won his 500th game two weeks ago.

“I was very proud of him for how long he’s been able to coach, how successful he’s been and especially how good of a dad he’s been though it all,” TJ said.

Nick said when he finally caught up with his dad afterward: “I just hugged him.”

And one more thing: He said he’s reanalyzed his plan to be a sports psychologist:

“I’ve had a change of heart. I’d like to be in (sports) administration or maybe coach myself.”

Turns out the Nagys don’t listen to Grandpa either.

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