SALT LAKE CITY — Right now, Mark Madsen is a stay-at-home dad.
© James Crisp, Associated Press
Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen directs his team during the first half of a college basketball game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., Monday, Nov. 18, 2019.
And a coach.
And a recruiter.
And a gardner.
All from the friendly confines of his house.
That’s part of the COVID-19 pandemic life for the Utah Valley men’s basketball coach.
The 44-year-old father of two, though, is taking the changes in stride as best he can with he and wife Hannah’s second child, Leroy, just 9 weeks old.
“I was incredibly happy with just the way the guys learned the system, the way the guys picked up the coverages and how really, towards the end of the season, we really started to implement it.” — UVU coach Mark Madsen
“Typically in late March and April, even going into May, I would be on the road close to nonstop,” said Madsen, who sees the extra time at home with his family as a blessing. “We have a system. With the newborn, Hannah’s up all throughout the night. Our system right now is she doesn’t get much sleep at night, so I’ll wake up when (2-year-old) William gets up — that’s anywhere from 6 to 7:30 a.m. — so I’ll be hanging out with him and once 8:30 hits, I go in my office and start working — recruiting, watching tape, team prep, all those different things.
“Then at night, we try to go on a walk some days as a family. It has been nice, especially with our newborn.”
Beyond the more-than-expected time with family, the pandemic has offered a change-up to the normal routine for Madsen, the former power forward and two-time NBA champion who played collegiately at Stanford. He’s even found a new hobby: gardening.
“I kept it to the most basic things possible — carrot seeds, beet seeds and radishes. I put fertilizer in there, drew a line and threw some seeds down. The radishes are starting to come up,” he said.
On the recruiting trail
A lot of Madsen’s workload recently has involved recruiting, with changes brought on by the stay-at-home edict as the world tries to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Really right now, since the season ended, that’s what has been our main focus is recruiting, using our iPhones. But then also, we’ve been having some great Zoom meetings with recruits and their parents. We’ve been trying to be really innovative in reaching out to the players we’ve honed in on,” Madsen said.
That recruiting work has paid off for Madsen and the Wolverines, as five transfers joined the UVU program during the first week of the NCAA national signing period that began April 15.
Of those five, two are headed to Orem from other Division I programs: Georgia Tech forward Evan Cole is a graduate transfer — “You could ask Evan to do almost anything on the court and he has the versatility to do it,” Madsen said — while point guard Blaze Nield, a Lehi High product, played his sophomore year at BYU following one season at USU Eastern — “It’s rare to have a point guard who has the broad skill set that Blaze possesses.”
The other three are moving up to the Division I level: Salt Lake Community College forward Asa McCord (prepped at Westlake High), McCook Community College wing Le’Tre Darthard and Snow College power forward/center Trey Farrer (Pine View High).
Lessons from his first season at UVU
Madsen recently passed his year mark at UVU — he was announced head coach of the Wolverines’ program on April 14, 2019 — and, understandably, wishes his first season would have ended under better circumstances. The Wolverines were set to face Seattle in the first round of the WAC Tournament on March 12 when Madsen received a phone call from UVU athletic director Jared Sumsion at 8:30 that morning informing him the event was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.
“We were on a bus going back to Orem, Utah, about 2 1/2 hours later,” Madsen said. “I was disappointed, our players were disappointed. I felt bad for our seniors who had put so much into this season and who I felt deserved an opportunity to showcase what they had worked for. But hey, it’s impacted everybody and everyone is just trying to make the best of it and move forward.”
Madsen also saw the silver linings from his first season as a head coach — the Wolverines finished the 2019-20 campaign with a 11-19 record — following a decade of work as an assistant at the college and pro levels, including seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We did some things that were special. We went on the road and beat a very good Grand Canyon team. We went down to New Mexico State and we were up one with six seconds left. They threw in a tough, off-balance shot off the glass to win,” said Madsen, whose team also went into Kentucky and trailed the nationally ranked Wildcats by one with just 3:26 to play before losing 72-64 in November.
Guard Brandon Averette represented the Wolverines on the WAC All-Newcomer team after averaging 12.8 points and 2.9 assists per game as a junior. Guard Isaiah White — who reportedly is headed to USC as a graduate transfer — led UVU in scoring (14.5 points per game) and rebounding (8.4), and senior guard TJ Washington — one of four seniors on the team — paced the Wolverines in assists (4.6 per game) while averaging 12.4 points per game.
“I was incredibly happy with just the way the guys learned the system, the way the guys picked up the coverages and how really, towards the end of the season, we really started to implement it. I was really proud of our players,” Madsen said.
The lockdown and the future
If anything, the coronavirus lockdown has provided Madsen and his coaching staff unique opportunities to stay in touch with their players.
“I call the players, text them, direct message the guy sometimes on social media,” he said. “We actually did a Zoom call where everybody talked about something positive that could come from this corona situation. That was the topic of conversation.”
These virtual meetings have allowed the head coach to share the leadership roles: assistant coach Jarred Jackson led the discussion in one meeting, while Averette was the point man on another.
“It’s very important for us to stay connected as a group and just on a personal note,” Madsen said.
That connection and building relationships will be key as the Wolverines look to improve in Madsen’s second season in 2020-21 with a group that will be a heavy mix of returning players, including junior guard Trey Woodbury, and newcomers, including former BYU guard Colby Leifson.
“We have a number of guys coming back and we have a strong familiarity of their strengths. I think we’re all excited about the coming year,” Madsen said. “We had a number of incredibly close games this season — overtime games, a loss by one point here, a loss at the buzzer by two points there. We were in almost every single game and for that, I was proud of our guys.”
BYU and Utah will be back on UVU’s schedule next season. Last year, the Wolverines lost a pair of tightly contested games back-to-back against Weber State and Southern Utah.
“That’s one of the core values we talked about when we took over the program, the importance of in-state rivalry games,” Madsen said. “Utah is a basketball state. As long as I’m coach here, we’re going to be trying to play in-state games, in addition to high-profile out-of-state games.”
It wasn’t long ago that UVU was a top-end program in the WAC and pushing 20-plus wins each season under Madsen’s predecessor, Mark Pope, who took over at BYU last year. Madsen sees these recent successes well within reach for his team.
“The next step in our progression to get this program where it needs to be is to win the majority of those close games and get that 20-win season, get a great seed in the WAC Tournament to be able to win the whole thing and earn the bid to the NCAA Tournament,” he said.
“That’s the goal, and that’s what we work toward every single day.”