When he arrived at Butler University as a freshman, Zach Hahn wasn’t necessarily planning to become a basketball coach.
But Hahn’s passion for the game set him on that path.
“It was pretty clear early on that Zach, once he decided to become an education major, that he was going to become a coach,” said Brad Stevens, now coaching the NBA’s Boston Celtics after famously leading Hahn and the Bulldogs to NCAA title game appearances in 2010 and 2011.
It’s becoming clear that Hahn has a knack for it. Now in his third season at Center Grove, his first head coaching job, he’s guided a very young Trojans team to its first sectional title since 2012 (and just its second since 1994).
“I’ve just always loved basketball, and I loved learning the game,” Hahn said, “and it’s been fun for me to try and share some of the things that I’ve learned from the great coaches that I played for with some of these guys.”
A few of Hahn’s Butler teammates have gone down a similar path, and that’s not exactly an accident.
“I don’t think you have to want to be a coach to love basketball,” Stevens said, “but we did want guys that loved basketball.”
Hahn certainly fit that description. An Indiana All-Star after averaging 18.7 points and 5.6 assists as a senior at New Castle, the 6-foot-1 guard went on to become a key contributor on back-to-back Final Four teams at Butler.
He did so despite being shorter and less athletic than most of the players he went up against. Stevens attributes that to Hahn’s determination and relentless drive, qualities that he has carried with him to Center Grove.
“The best quality that I ever thought Zach had as a player was this — he was crazy enough to believe he belonged on the court,” Stevens said. “He was such a hard worker, he was so diligent, he was so tough, he was so skilled and so well conditioned that it made up for the fact that he was small and not very athletic.
“And when you think about the stages that he got a chance to play on, for him, it was earned. He had to earn everything he got, and that was from being in the gym from 6:30 to 8:30 at night every day and back in the gym at 5 a.m. That guy worked at his game; he worked and wanted to be really good.
“So when you’re done playing the game, it’s hard to let go of that if that’s the way that you worked at it. And Zach was a great example of that, and it’s not a surprise that he’s having success as a coach.”
Success has come a bit earlier than anticipated for this current group of Trojans, which includes three sophomore starters and only one senior, Travis Roehling, regularly logging major minutes. It’s a group that has matured rapidly throughout the season — and one that has started taking on quite a bit of its coach’s personality.
“More than anything, I think that these guys have just embraced the team mentality,” Hahn said. That’s the ultimate compliment to them. We don’t know who’s going to be our leading scorer; it could be one of seven, eight guys.”
Three different players (Trayce Jackson-Davis, Spencer Piercefield and Roehling) are scoring more than 11 points per game for Center Grove this winter. The legendary Butler teams that Hahn played for were somewhat similar in that sense — Gordon Hayward has become a star with the NBA’s Utah Jazz, but the Bulldogs weren’t reliant upon him. Four different players averaged at least 9.8 points for the 2010 team.
The blueprint that Stevens used at Butler was obviously a successful one, and Hahn has worked plenty of it into his own coaching style. So far, it’s working.
“I’m not reinventing the wheel; I’m not teaching anything new,” Hahn said. “This is stuff that I’ve been passed down, and these guys are embracing it. They’re embracing our culture and embracing our system, and that’s the reason we’re playing really good basketball right now.”
Center Grove vs. New Albany, 10 a.m.
Bloomington South vs. Castle, noon
Championship, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $7 per session, $10 both sessions
Note: A live video webcast of the Center Grove-New Albany game will be available at https://www.facebook.com/CGSportsNetwork. The championship game will be carried at the same address if Center Grove advances.
Zach Hahn’s year-by-year record at Center Grove thus far:
* — won sectional championship