Head coach Jim Jabir has reshaped University of Dayton women’s basketball since his arrival in April 2003 — that much is certain.
For the fans, Jabir has built a program that is worth watching. For his colleagues, he has contributed greatly to the culture of success at the university. For his players, the coach is a leader and a teacher of not just the game, but of personal growth.
“When I arrived, the program was in disarray,” Jabir said. “It was like vanilla … the players were just thrown together without purpose.”
That’s no longer the case, as Jabir pointed out.
“We recruit good players, sure, but we go for good people first,” he said. “In our system, we want them to work together, not individually.”
This season’s recruiting class comes in at 32nd in the nation, according to rankings by ESPN/HoopGurlz.com. It is one of the program’s best ever, and also tops the list of best classes in the Atlantic 10.
While the Flyers were picked to win the A-10 title this season, Jabir said the idea is utterly ridiculous, especially for now. His team fell 79-77 at home in an exhibition game against Ashland University on Saturday, Nov. 3. On the court for AU was the only player to ever transfer from Dayton during the Jim Jabir-era, Kari Daugherty, who was the NCAA Division II Player of the Year last season in her first year with Ashland.
“It didn’t really matter,” said Jabir, referring to the fact that one of his top players was now an opponent. “I talked to her before the game, gave her a hug as she came through the tunnel, but that was really it.”
Jabir said that the loss was likely good for his players, but they can’t let it consume them. He added that he scheduled the Division II National runner-up for a reason: to help his team get better.
“I could have chosen from 20 teams we could have crushed by 40 points,” said Jabir. “But we [as a team] wouldn’t learn what we still need to improve on.”
According to senior forward Olivia Applewhite, Jabir is always after them to do better.
“He pushes us,” she said. “But he’s also there to help. I’ve learned a lot in the years he’s been my coach.”
In the moments following UD’s win in the 2012 A-10 championship game against St. Bonaventure University, Jabir was quiet, Applewhite said.
“Coach didn’t join our celebration or run onto the court,” she recalled. “He seemed to just stand back and take it all in, almost like he didn’t know what was happening.”
By his own accord, the coach is not one to dwell on the past, but he admits that his seniors from last season, who included Patrice Lalor, Justine Raterman and Elle Queen, played a big role in his recent success at Dayton.
“I think it was their freshman year against Xavier — we had four freshmen and a sophomore on the court,” he said. “That was something amazing.”
His career path has not been easy, but the fact that he’s still in the business certainly says a lot. During his time at Providence College in Rhode Island, Jabir was considering leaving the coaching business all together. His own children had other ideas.
“I was ready to take a sales job so we could stay there,” he said. “It was my family that convinced me to not give up on coaching.”
Women’s volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield came in two years after Jabir, and has seen just as much success as his colleague in the time since.
“We thrive when we have leaders like Jim,” Sheffield said. “I’ve gotten a chance to get to know him pretty well, and he has done a lot for the university.”
As he enters his 10th season as UD’s women’s basketball coach, Jabir’s recipe for success appears to be working. But even after a third straight NCAA tournament appearance last season, he noted his team is expected to do better.
“Preseason poll aside, our players have a goal to win the A-10 regular season title, which we wanted to do last year,” said Jabir. “We have a great team and a great program.”
It’s not often that a team with a nine-year winning percentage of .406 under two different coaches transforms into a program with a .566 average in the same amount of time.
Under Jabir, however, that’s exactly what has happened. That’s certainly not “vanilla.”