‘Transition’ is a common term used in basketball.
It not only applies on the court, but also on the bench – at least over the next couple seasons – for the St. F.X. X-Men basketball program.
Earlier this month, St. F.X. director of athletics and recreation Leo MacPherson named former X-Man Tyrell Vernon as an associate coach.
“I am extremely excited – St. F.X. and the basketball program changed my life,” the Hamilton native, who played two seasons with the Blue and White, said.
He added his focus will be on continuing the rich tradition of academic and athletic excellence established by veteran head coach Steve Konchalski, who just wrapped up his 44th season leading the program.
“We are thrilled to have Tyrell join our talented team of coaches and athletics staff,” MacPherson said in a St. F.X. Athletics press release.
Vernon, who will also serve as associate coach for the X-Women basketball team next season, will take over for Konchalski after the X-Men host the 2021 U Sports Final 8 men’s championship tournament.
“Tyrell is a quality young coach – one of the brightest in the country,” Konchalski said of his former point guard.
He noted the importance of having his successor continue the X-Men’s tradition, on and off the court, one focussed on “personal growth and development.”
“I am very comfortable turning the program over to him,” Konchalski added.
He explained Vernon has a first-hand understanding of the student-athlete experience at St. F.X., including academically and athletically.
“Everything fell into place,” Konchalski said, when it came to the timing of the move.
He noted he considered adding another former X-Man, in a similar role, three of four years ago, but “the timing wasn’t right.”
With the growing demands involved in running a program, in areas such as fundraising and recruiting, Konchalski said more and more are adding full-time assistant coaches.
With St. F.X. Athletics now in a better position to do the same, they re-visited the idea for the X-Men.
Vernon topped the list of potential candidates.
“We have stayed in close contact since he left St. F.X.,” Konchalski said, noting he has been following Vernon’s progress, particularly since taking over the powerful boys’ program at The RISE Centre (TRC Academy), a prep school in Brantford, Ontario.
Vernon, the 2019 Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) coach of the year, recently led the program to the second of back-to-back championship titles.
“Coach was one of the first calls I made when I got that job – he has been with me every step of the way,” Vernon said, illustrating the closeness of their relationship.
After helping lead the X-Men to U Sports bronze and graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2012, Vernon continued his playing career, which included a stint with the Mississauga Power of the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL).
In 2013, he garnered a championship and an MVP award with Team 905 of the North of the Border Basketball League (NBBL), which features elite semi-pro and post-secondary basketball players from southern Ontario.
As for his move to coaching, it started when Vernon helped coach his younger brother, who was in high school at the time, and some of his friends.
“They played so hard and they listened,” he said of the group, one that included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is now a member of the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA.
That memorable experience motivated Vernon to pursue a teaching degree, as part of continuing his coaching journey.
“His understanding of the game is exceptional,” Konchalski said, when asked what Vernon will bring to the table as a coach, noting he possessed that same quality as a player.
He added Vernon can relate to players, noting his “calm and cool” approach.
“It is going to be great,” the newly-appointed associate coach said of the two-year succession period.
Noting “coaching-wise” he believes he is ready for the challenge, Vernon said he relishes the opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge from Konchalski about everything else involved with leading a U Sports’ program.
“I am going to learn so much,” he said.
Vernon also noted his familiarity with an “at its peak” Ontario market, and its prep leagues, will be an asset to the X-Men program.
Vernon will begin his tenure as associate coach with the X-Women and X-Men programs April 1.
Getting back to the timing – and timeline – for the implementation of the program’s succession plan, Konchalski described having his exit come in 2021, after the X-Men host the Final 8, as “a factor for me.”
“That’s where we have had our greatest successes,” he added of capturing three national titles on the Metro Centre – now Scotiabank Centre – floor in Halifax.
Konchalski appreciates having the opportunity to end his almost five decades leading the X-Men on what he described as a “really positive note.”
And, he reminded, his final game as St. F.X. head coach will not mark the end of his basketball career.
“I am going to stay involved in the game,” Konchalski said.
Possibilities include continuing his mentorship role with the Canadian men’s national program, or providing his expertise at the provincial and local levels.
“I won’t be far from a gym,” he said, with a laugh.