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April 12, 2014

Back on the men’s side, Tinsley starts work at NSU

TAHLEQUAH — Jason Tinsley’s been on both sides of the gender coaching line. On Friday in his introduction as the new men’s basketball coach at Northeastern State University, he introduced himself as the guy who basically is still one and the same.

“I haven’t changed,” he said, discussing a head coaching journey that started at Bossier Parish (La.) Community College in 1999-2002, went through NCAA Division II North Carolina-Pembroke from 2003-08 (the first year as an assistant) and then to Louisiana College and the women’s side from 2010-14.

Tinsley, the successor to Larry Gipson who retired following a 17-year run that included the school’s only national championship and five NCAA tournament appearances, then recalled what he told the women’s team in his first meeting with them.

“I said to them, ‘I’ve coached men 18 years. I don’t know any other way to do it. I’m going to coach you the same way I coached men. Same drills, same expectations. If I coach you any other way, you need to be insulted,’” he said.

The formula worked at the Pineville, La., campus, where he arrived with a 72-126 record and in four seasons posted an 89-25 mark and three berths in the NCAA Division III Championship tournament. The team advanced to the Round of 32 in 2011, which included the first NCAA tournament victory in school history.  

His four-year stint at Pembroke was quite the opposite, though. He spent one year as an assistant there before taking a program that was 3-56 over the two previous seasons and found the struggle similar from the head coach’s chair, going 22-91. His last year, 2007-08, was his most successful season at 8-20.

“(My attitude) when I got there was give me any job, any schedule and I’m going to win, and most coaches do think that way — whatever hand I’m dealt, I’m going to win. Well you live and learn there’s more to it than that,” he said. “(It’s also) the psychology of coaching, which is the hardest part to understand, figuring how to get a team from the bottom of the pits and make them competitive.”

So he has changed in that respect. He learned he pushed too hard, specifically in areas of conditioning, causing young inexperienced teams to peak early. He also said he mistakenly leaned too much on high school players in a conference that focused more on Division I transfers and junior college players.   

But Tinsley’s aggressive defensive approach caught on with the women’s program. They were one of the top teams in  Division III in steals and turnover differential as well as 3-point shooting.

“Guys play above the rim, girls don’t. That’s the difference. Basketball is basketball,” he said.

Tinsley will lose a coach, sort of.  Armed with a $7,000 budget to split between two assistant coaches at LC, he hired his wife Sonia, herself a former high school All-American who played at Northwestern (La.) State and taught at the college. The couple’s life has been intertwined with basketball since they’ve been married.

“She’ll always be my consultant,” he said in a statement with as much matrimonial meaning as basketball, and in that regard drawing a chuckle from those gathered. “She recruited with me. The years I coached men she did give me some feedback.”

Tinsley was ultimately attracted to NSU due to the tradition that wasn’t at Pembroke, as well as the facilities including the year-old NSU Event Center. And, he added, the difference that these players know how to win.

“Three coaches since 1959. Guys don’t hang around that long unless they’re successful,” he said.

Athletic director Tony Duckworth saw Tinsley as a fit to that streak. He wasn’t among the early short list of candidates but surfaced during the process. Duckworth said he was particularly intrigued by some of Tinsley’s early coaching associations, among them former Tulsa coach J.D. Barnett, who Tinsley coached under at Northwestern Louisiana.

“In this business when you’re a young professional and you’re around good people, that’s going to set up for good success in the future,” he said.

In a statement released by NSU, Barnett said Tinsley was “a guy who has an understanding of how he wants the game played. He can teach everything involved. He’s going to make sure his kids do what’s right as people.”

Tinsley, who said he plans on visiting with Gipson, took note of the team’s lull after a 10-3 start before going on to finish 16-13 and in the MIAA semifinals, with a two-game sweep of national champion Central Missouri. He wanted to know more about that lull.  

“He’s highly loved, highly respected not only in the community but in basketball circles. He’s good,” Tinsley said of Gipson.  “I’ll pick his brain and I’d be a fool not to lean on him.”

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