Looking around Center Grove High School’s empty West Gym recently, Zach Hahn, as point guards are known to do, thought ahead.
“This gym is obviously really, really neat. It brings back memories for me playing at New Castle, just a smaller version,” Hahn said of the 2,750-seat octagon used as home court by the boys basketball program a handful of times each season.
“But at the same time, my ultimate goal would be that we don’t use this facility at all because we bring so many people to the games who want to be involved with the program.”
Hahn was hired April 25 as Center Grove boys basketball coach. Having turned 26 in May, the former Butler University player has had two months to mull over his recent good fortune.
After all, his first job as a head basketball coach isn’t leading some rural Class A program in the middle of nowhere. It’s quite the opposite, considering Center Grove features one of Indiana’s largest student enrollment figures and plays in what’s widely regarded as its premier conference (Metropolitan Interscholastic).
Skeptics will insist that playing for Butler’s 2010 and 2011 national runner-up squads paved the way for Hahn to land the gig in the first place.
Maybe there were more-qualified applicants. Maybe there weren’t.
All Hahn knows is he’s been fortunate to learn from elite coaches at every stage of his basketball lineage — Steve Bennett at New Castle High School, Brad Stevens at Butler and the past three seasons as a Ben Davis assistant coach under Mark James.
“The main thing is my mentors growing up have all been legends of basketball. Brad is now with the Boston Celtics. Steve Bennett was an assistant coach at (University of) Evansville for years and produced many great teams at New Castle and is very well-respected. And then Mark is a legend with 400-plus wins,” Hahn said.
“The guys I’ve surrounded myself with or I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by have all had unbelievable traditions and records, and they’re just great coaches in general.”
Hahn wasn’t halfway through his four seasons playing for Stevens when he reached a defining moment in his development as a person, player and leader.
“Going into my sophomore year in college, a lot of people thought I would start; but we brought in a great freshman class, and eventually two of those freshmen became NBA players (Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack) that kind of played my position,” Hahn said.
“I was the captain for three years at Butler, but at the same time I was a guy who came off the bench and tried to give us a spark. That year was a big learning experience for me because it was the first year ever I wasn’t the best player. I fulfilled my role, and I learned to do that. For me, that really set the tone for what I think I want to do as a coach.”
It’s this all-for-one mentality Hahn hopes to bring to Center Grove, a program that graduated only one senior from last season’s roster.
He’s insists he’s still in the process of getting to know top returning players, such as Michael Benkert, Joey Lenkey, Anderson McCoy, Carson Lee and Sam Hendershott.
“It’s not about playing time and who scores the points. It’s about the end result. It’s about being part of a team and the journey that you have as you go through,” Hahn said.
“That’s part of the reason we had so much success at Butler. Everyone on my team there really embraced the role they had, whether it was a guy who was just a practice player or a guy who played 30 minutes a game.”
Hahn’s blending of primary basketball influences isn’t going to be an attempt to harness Stevens’ professorial look while at the same time contradicting it with old cowboy boots like James wears during games.
“I’ve taken a little bit of what all those guys do, and I’ve blended it into my own (style). I think you’ve got to do what successful people do, and those are all very successful coaches,” Hahn said. “By me blending what they do together it’s going to end up in a good result. That’s the goal.”
Hahn, who will teach health and physical education at Center Grove, did receive advice from Stevens not long after being hired at Center Grove.
“He said, ‘It’s your program now, and you get to make all the shots. But at the end of the day, if you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it,’” Hahn said. “He said it’s a learning experience and don’t be scared to make mistakes. He said to just go after it and have fun.”