Dan Wallace is back in the Greater Miami Conference and ready to make a difference in Lakota East High School’s girls basketball program.
Wallace, the head coach at McAuley the last five years and at Colerain the three seasons before that, has received school-board approval as the Thunderhawks’ new head man.
“I’m coming into Lakota with a fresh set of eyes,” said Wallace, 34. “I know what it’s going to take to win in the GMC and I’ve proven the ability to do that to an extent, but I also know how hard it is.
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“There’s definitely some pieces here. Where it goes is dependent on me and the decisions I make, but it’s also dependent on whether or not we can get the buy-in from the community. And we don’t really have any control over that, so all we can do is give it our best shot.
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“My programs have always been built on effort. The basketball IQ piece of things is big to me. I’m big on teaching the game. Not just what set plays to do, but really teach them how to play the game of basketball at a high level.”
East was just 11-36 over the last two seasons under Gideon Dudgeon. He resigned after this year’s 5-19 campaign.
Wallace led McAuley to a 99-26 record and three Girls Greater Catholic League championships. He had a 40-28 mark at Colerain.
“I could not be more excited,” East athletic director Rich Bryant said. “I’ve watched Dan coach at Colerain and McAuley, and one of the things we’ve noticed is that his kids play so hard. I think that’s a part of the culture that he brings and the work that he puts in at practice, and it transfers over to success.
“I put a lot of emphasis on someone who can sit before you and tell you ‘I have done this’ vs. ‘I will do this.’ He built McAuley. I’ve seen it because we’ve played them for the last seven or eight years. Early on we had their number, and as of late they’ve had ours, and that has spread apart from the beginning.
“The way his kids play, the culture he creates, if you can get somebody like that to take over a program, you go get ’em.”
Bryant, who said he was surprised by Dudgeon’s resignation, received about 40 applications for the job.
He believes Wallace is a home-run hire that will help the Thunderhawks move toward competing with the Lakota West Firebirds, the perennial Division I state contenders in their own district.
“That’s where we want to be, that’s where we need to be, and I think that’s where we will be,” Bryant said.
Dudgeon said the magnitude of competing against nearby programs like West and Mason isn’t understood by enough people at East.
“Lakota East is a unique situation with West being down the road and the success they’ve had,” Dudgeon said. “When you have Division I athletes, you can hide a lot of things. But when you don’t have those athletes and you’re trying to change the culture and teach them how to compete, there’s not always an understanding of what that takes.
“I think there’s some impatience in that. If you look at the records of some of the best coaches in the area, they don’t all start off 25-2. It just takes time, and we live in a world of instant gratification.”
Dudgeon said there was no pressure from the administration to step down. He teaches business education at Mason and doesn’t have any immediate coaching plans.
“I’m a big fan of many of the kids at East,” Dudgeon said. “Sometimes things just aren’t a good fit and you have to make decisions, so that’s basically what I did. I’ve had some opportunities to help some people out and I might take them up on it, but other than that, I’m just going to enjoy the free time.”
Asked if he had any thoughts on Wallace taking over, Dudgeon replied, “I have no issues with Dan. He’s had a lot of success at McAuley, and hopefully he’ll do a good job. I think it’s a unique situation that you don’t really understand until you get into the middle of it, so it’ll probably be a little bit of a learning curve once he gets in there.”
Wallace is currently a physical education teacher at St. James Elementary School in White Oak. Starting in the fall, he’ll split his days as a phys ed teacher at Independence Elementary and Woodland Elementary in the Lakota district.
McAuley and Mercy are closing and creating Mercy McAuley in the fall. Wallace doesn’t know if he would’ve been chosen as the new head coach there, but he likes what he sees at East regardless.
“The way I saw it, I would be building a new program with the Mercy girls coming in there if I got that position,” Wallace said. “Here, I’m going to do the same thing. I just think this is a really nice place with a great community, and I think I’m going to be able to be successful. I really think this program can do something special over time.”
In terms of Xs and Os, he’s not sure what he’ll be running with the Thunderhawks.
“For me, it’s based on the players I’ve got,” Wallace said. “We won the GGCL three times in my five years at McAuley, and all three years I ran three different offenses. This is high school ball. I don’t get to pick my players. I get who comes to this school, and I’ve got to build around that.”