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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Wawer finds passion, future in coaching

Coach Bob Sheldon has taken senior John Wawer under his wing as Wawer prepares for a career in coaching.

Entering college, most students hope to find their future calling in the classroom. John Wawer, however, found his on the hardwood.

Wawer, a senior majoring in international relations, is currently in the middle of his second season as Director of Basketball Operations for the men's basketball team. Wawer, however, did not expect to find himself in this position when he started at Tufts almost four years ago.

"Coming into Tufts I thought I was going to be an econ major," Wawer said. "I started off on that path and took a few higher level econ classes and realized I can't do math at the college level. So I started to look elsewhere, but in general I needed to branch out and figure out what I wanted to do."

According to Wawer, he spent much of his first two years trying to find a career path that fit his major. After a slew of uninspiring internships, though, Wawer began to look outside the typical job opportunities discussed at Tufts Career Services.

"I needed to kind of look at jobs I have a decent skillset for and like doing," Wawer said. "I like connecting with people, I like talking to people and I love basketball -- I've always loved sports -- so coaching was kind of a good mesh between those."

Luckily for Wawer, his athletic experiences both before and during college gave him an inside track to finding a coaching position.

"Luckily, I had coached before doing soccer coaching and golf -- I had been involved with the First Tee program [in high school] -- and I had worked [at] basketball camps in high school," Wawer said. "I had [also] played basketball for my entire life ... my dad had always played and wanted me to be involved in the game ... I actually played [junior varsity] in high school for three years [at Taft]."

Wawer also played golf at Taft, and joined the men's varsity golf team when he came to Tufts. Playing with the golf team, however, still left Wawer missing the feeling of being a part of a team.

"I missed being around the game [of basketball]," Wawer said. "It was such a big part of my life, and to not be involved at all in a team sport [was something I missed]."

According to Wawer, he approached the coach of the men's basketball team, Bob Sheldon, who also happens to be the coach of the golf team, with the idea of joining the basketball team in a coaching role.

Wawer's proposal was also buoyed by the fact that Sheldon was familiar with bringing on a student coach to his staff.

"I knew John from golf ... and at the end of his sophomore year he was saying he wasn't sure what he wanted to do," Sheldon said. "He said he wanted to look into coaching -- and I had had this before with [assistant coach] Matt Malone who was the Head of Basketball Operations and is still with me -- so I said you can do that and get a feel for it and see if that's something you want to do later in life. I wanted to help him any way I could here at Tufts, because that's what we're all about."

Wawer joined the team full-time in the fall of his junior season, and started off doing whatever the coaches or players asked of him. According to Wawer, his main tasks that Fall began with working the players out and keeping advanced stats during games.

"I started helping out the team with their off-season workouts, and in general familiarizing myself with the program," Wawer said. "I helped out with individual workouts, and then starting into the season I was watching a lot of film on opponents ... Once the season started, my first year I was used primarily for stat keeping and general analytics."

Wawer was used for far more than keeping track of rebound differentials or points per game; instead, he kept track of statistics such as kills (anytime the Jumbos get a defensive stop three possessions in a row), number of times Tufts guards were sped up by an opposing team's press or number of passes Tufts forced.

Wawer quickly learned to balance his dual roles of peer and mentor on the team as he became more comfortable giving advice.

"The hardest part is looking past that I'm only a student," Wawer said. "If I'm trying to chip in with pieces of advice, it's knowing your place within the coaching staff and just trying to find your niche."

According to sophomore center Hunter Sabety, who was the Jumbos' leading scorer this year before a knee injury sidelined him for the past three weeks, the team has been extremely receptive to any advice Wawer has to give.

"He really knows what he's talking about," Sabety said. "He has a high basketball IQ, plays on an intramural team and he says he gets buckets ... If he says 'You can be a lot better if you work on your jumpshot,' then you think, 'Oh maybe I should work on my jumpshot.' Whenever he says something, it's definitely something everybody takes into consideration."

Sabety also emphasized that Wawer will not just tell players what to do but also help them do it.

"He's not just saying 'work on your jumpshot,'" Sabety said. "He's saying 'You'd be better if you worked on your jumpshot; when do you want to meet with me?'"

Sheldon also believes that Wawer has grown into his position on the team and has become an impactful member of the staff in his second year with the team in-season.

"He found his voice a little bit with us and the team because he was here all year," Sheldon said. "We've been able to give him more stuff as we've gone along."

Although Wawer was able to quickly find his way with the Tufts basketball team, his biggest challenge will be taking the plunge into a profession that is notoriously difficult to break into.

"Incredibly worried," Wawer said of the instability that comes with coaching. "Stability is a huge concern in my mind. The saying in coaching is that you're going to live poor for five years and if you haven't risen up, it's time to look for something else.

According to Malone, however, Wawer is taking all of the right steps to make his dream into a reality.

"He's really good with names and faces when it comes to recruiting so he can watch hundreds of kids in the weekend and remember the ones that stick out," Malone said. "When he has the chance to talk to Div. I head coaches or assistant coaches he's going to impress them because he'll be able to remember every kid he's seen play and spit the info back out."

Despite the difficulties he is sure to face, Wawer feels that his experiences at Tufts have put him in a position to succeed.

"I'm quietly confident that I'll be able to -- having come from a staff like Tufts and a school like Tufts -- that I'll be able to find something," Wawer said. "After that you just have to work hard."