Archdeacon: Miami women’s basketball coach has a resume filled with real life experience

OXFORD — He grew silent as he dusted off the long-shelved memories.

“Man, I haven’t thought about some of these things in a long time,” Glenn Box, the new Miami University women’s basketball coach said as he shook his head and managed a small laugh Wednesday morning.

Suddenly, he no longer was in the spacious head coach’s office at Millett Hall. He was a teenager — already with two young sons of his own and a college basketball career put on hold — working as a deckhand on a towboat on the Ohio River where it merges with the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois, his hometown.

“I had two young kids and needed to work, so I sat out (of college) two years,” he said. “I was helping tie barges together that were carrying soybean meal, corn, different grains, things like that. You form a fleet (of barges) and take them down the river and pass them off to another river company where some other pilot may push them all the way to New Orleans.

“It can be a dangerous job. It’s slick and you can be sucked into the grain. You have to be really careful. And, in winter, the conditions are brutal.”

He then got a job unloading railroad cars onto the barges. Again, it was tough work, but when you’re 19 and have two toddlers (Darius and William) you need to step up.

Eventually he started to go to school part time while working and, finally, he told himself: “No more! I’m supposed to be playing basketball, too.”

Even as he began basketball at Rend Lake College, a community college in Southern Illinois — following his prep career at Cairo High School — he had a side job.

And when his hoops career was sidelined again as he and his then wife added a baby girl, Auna, he took a series of jobs, everything from working at a juvenile detention center and as a teacher’s aide to factory shifts and a stint at an Anheuser Busch warehouse.

There were times he said they didn’t have enough money for daycare and he stayed home to care for the baby. For a while they lived with relatives.

And even when he got his first college coaching opportunity at Rend Lake, he had to drive two hours and 40 minutes round trip each day for the $3,000 position which he supplemented with a $7.20 an hour job at a fitness center.

There were times the commute — after a late-night game and an early morning report for work again — became too much and he simply pulled his car into a roadside rest and slept there.

“That’s why I’m different than anybody else,” he said quietly. “I have real life experience. I didn’t come straight out of college and get to do this.”

And that’s why he hasn’t shied away from the overwhelming challenges of this new job.

After spending the past seven years with the successful Indiana Hoosiers women’s program — the past four as the associate head coach on Teri Moren’s staff — he has stepped into a situation where the last winning season was five years ago.

It’s a program that was hit three months ago by a scandal that left a lot of people stunned and heart-broken.

And since the end of last season – a 12 -19 campaign that saw the RedHawks miss qualifying for the Mid-American Conference postseason tournament for the fourth year in a row – there has been a mass exodus from the roster.

Seven players — including the top five scorers and top five rebounders — transferred to other programs, including the University of Dayton, Oregon, Wichita State and two went to Clemson.

That left Box with just four players who saw limited minutes last season.

Making the situation even tougher, Box didn’t take over the Miami job until May 8, extremely late for anyone trying to restock a roster. Most graduating high school players and transfers of merit have signed elsewhere by them.

But the Miami job had opened unexpectedly just 12 days prior when the well-liked head coach, DeUnna Hendrix, about to begin her fifth season in Oxford, resigned on April 26. According to a story first reported by The Athletic, that was seven days after the university became aware of intimate text messages between her and one of the since-departed RedHawks players.

Miami began a quick search and focused on Box.

During his IU tenure, the Hoosiers won at least 21 games each season and made seven post season tournaments, advancing once to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight and twice to the Sweet 16. This past season they finished 28-4, won the Big Ten regular season and were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But just as he had when he worked on those Ohio River towboats and unloading railroad cars onto barges, the 48 -year-old Box has embraced the tough circumstances he faces in his first head coaching at a four-year college,.

“Opportunity is opportunity,” he said. “I know how difficult head coaching opportunities are to come by and if somebody is willing to invest in me, to believe in me, I value that.”

Credit: Scott Kissell

Credit: Scott Kissell

‘Grew up in basketball’

“I basically grew up in basketball,” Box said. “I went to every high school game from the time I was four years old until I played myself.”

He said he was raised by his mother, Carrie Bridges, who was a school teacher, and was influenced by his grandparents, Bill and Brenda Gooden, who ran wire rope business in Cairo.

Bill was a supporter of the Cairo High basketball program and friends with Pilots’ Hall of Fame coach Bill Chumbler, who compiled a 492-196 record in 21 years there.

Box said Chumbler allowed him, as a youngster, to sit on the bench at games and come in the locker room.

“Those high school guys were my superheroes,” he said.

After finally playing at Rend Lake College, Box got some offers from four-year schools, but decided to stay home and attend nearby Southeast Missouri State.

He first coached at Cairo High and then, after six years at Rend Lake — three as the women’s head coach — his career took him to two stints at St. Louis University, and stops at Akron and Western Michigan before IU.

‘I believe anything is possible’

Since taking over at Miami, Box said everything feels “like it’s been rushed, hurried. We had a lot that needed to get done in a short period of time.”

He quickly put a staff together that includes veteran coaches Ben Wierzba and Evelyn Thompson, as well as Keyanna Warthen, who played for him at IU, and Megan Belke, the director of basketball operations who was on the Miami staff last season and is someone Box praised for helping him settle into his new job.

Next Box had to find players.

The RedHawks added twin grad students from the University of Cincinnati — 6-foot-2 Jadyn and 6-1 Jada Scott — who had been recruited by IU early in their high school careers.

Hennessey Luu Brown, a senior guard, was brought in from New Orleans and junior guard Cori Lard came from Barton Community College. Three freshman were signed, including, just a few days ago, Nuria Jurjo Jiminez from Barcelona, Spain. She has never been to Oxford and the Miami staff has not seen her play live.

“When you’re sitting at four scholarships, you’ve kind of just have to take a chance,” Box said. “But I feel pretty good about what I’ve seen.”

Regardless of a tough schedule and a quickly cobbled together team with limited experience — ingredients for what may be a tough year record wise — Box said he has high expectations for the program, especially with the promise and reputation that the school offers.

He and his wife Leah and their 1-year-old daughter Bella are set to close on a home here in a few days. Bella already has a tiny red chair in her dad’s office and spends a couple of hours a day with him at Millett.

His older children all are doing well, he said: Darius, now 29, is an engineer in Decatur, Illinois, and William, who’s in San Diego, returned to college and is a semester shy of a journalism degree. Auna, now 22, is a stenographer working at a hospital on Springfield, Illinois.

Box hopes the turn of good fortune in his life is a blueprint for the reversal he believes the RedHawks are about to face.

“We’re going to coach our kids up and work hard and I believe anything is possible,” he said. “My expectation is that we fix this quicker than people expect.

“If you know my history and have seen what I’ve done, I wouldn’t bet against me.”

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