JAYSON HYMAN - MIGHTY MAC’S MAN
When Jayson Hyman interviewed with Immaculata University administrators in the summer of 2016 for the men’s basketball head coaching job, he provided the customary five-year plan.
It was certainly not a surprise that a cerebral young coach who prides himself on preparedness would show up with such a strategy. Hyman first came to the school on the outskirts of the Philadelphia suburbs in 2006 as a player in just the second year for the men’s basketball program.
Immaculata has a long and storied basketball history, but the men’s team didn’t exist until right around the time Hyman started his playing career. The women’s team was not only the headliner, it was the only line at a school that only started enrolling men in 2005. Of course, the way the women played, nobody really much cared that they were the school’s only team.
The Mighty Macs women is what built the school’s reputation up first regionally and then nationally after trailblazing coach Cathy Rush won three straight Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national championships in the early 1970s. The AIAW was the main event before the NCAA got into the women’s basketball business in 1982. Immaculata was the sport’s original powerhouse. The Mighty Macs were UConn back when Geno Auriemma was playing high school ball 25 miles away in Norristown.
The 2009 film The Mighty Macs told the story to a new generation about Rush’s tremendous success in creating a women’s program at a time in history when schools were hesitant to do so.
Even though Hyman is focused on making his own identity on campus with a winning program, he makes every effort to keep a strong connection between the men’s and women’s teams.
“We embrace the school’s history, there’s a … movie about it. We would be foolish to separate from it.”
Hyman was well aware of the women’s legacy when he played his final two collegiate years for the school and averaged over 11 points a game. He was also a key piece for the squad that made a 2008 Division III NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I came here to play because I grew up in small Catholic schools, where community is strong and family-like. I needed that sense of structure and sense of belonging.”
And that was what he sold in his interview: community. A sense of belonging.
He figured the same things that made him want to play for Immaculata would engage the kind of players he knew he wanted to work with. Hyman never made promises of championships to follow. He instead focused more on the journey he would take with the school’s student athletes and a dedication to the program. By going along with that philosophy he felt comfortable he could make the Mighty Macs a perennial contender in the Division III Atlantic East Conference.
He started by building a foundation with what was on hand: No players brought to the school by the former coach were asked to leave, rather Hyman wanted to show all the players that creating an atmosphere of family, no matter the size, was the way to success.
By his third year it was already paying dividends as the Mighty Macs earned a berth in the conference semifinals. It was their first visit to such a game since 2012. It is also where the 2019 season ended with a 10-point loss to Wesley College. The optimistic Hyman planned on using that step to achieve even more.
That is, of course, where many a basketball story got knocked off its tracks and a season that Hyman originally had high expectations for lasted all of one game. When Hyman speaks about the lost Covid year, there are no signs of bitterness or “what ifs.” It’s the kind of approach you’d expect from a coach who played at Immaculata and pitched the administration less on wins and losses and more on the student experience.
He refuses to even see the single-game Covid season as a setback, mainly because he feels his squad was lucky enough to play just one game a year ago and now — just days away from welcoming his players back on to the Alumnae Hall court for what should be a full season — Hyman plans to use his fourth year as a learning experience and one that leads to a continued upward trajectory during the ever-important fifth year of his five-year plan.
“I’m eager for this season to start,” said Hyman whose demeanor is surprisingly both calm and energetic simultaneously. ”All the players I have talked to are eager also. We all learned a lot and just want to get back on the court. I’m very happy to sense all the energy around here.”
Bringing life and energy back to a basketball program at Immaculata is something the 36-year old has experience with but now Hyman plays the part of the one providing the structure and belonging. It is a role he cherishes.
Prior to getting the opportunity to run his own program, Hyman began his coaching career in the AAU ranks then latched onto an assistant position with the Immaculata women and then served under Damien Blair at West Chester University for the 2015-16 season. It was a career-altering position as the Rams under Blair have consistently been one of the strongest Division II programs in the Mid-Atlantic region.
At West Chester, Blair saw the type of leadership he knew would soon be parlayed into a head coaching position for Hyman.
“In Jay’s coaching in his early years, it was evident that he was a passionate and motivated individual,” said Blair, who has led his squad to four NCAA Tournament appearances during his 13-year tenure at WCU. “And even more importantly, he believes in helping young student athletes reach their fullest potential on the basketball floor and in the classroom.”
This is a good philosophy to use for Hyman as the coach. When he is playing that role he is prioritizing stability and continuity for his student athletes looking to resume their collegiate careers. However, Hyman, like many other Division III coaches, also serves in an administrative role and when he is serving in that capacity, he must have a different approach to a post COVID campus.
“All the coaches and administrators going forward have to police all the protocols on campus,” Hyman said. “I go from my office to the weight room, to the gym, to the fields outside and make sure people are wearing their masks, following all the rules that will keep us playing.”
The fact that there are students on campus to watch over is vitally important for a tuition-driven institution such as Immaculata.
There was plenty of work done by the school’s admissions office to attract high school students to college during a pandemic, and then there was the effort by Hyman and his staff, to keep existing players and recruit others.
“Recruiting was tough but it is such a big part of my job,” Hyman said.
One of the planks of the coach’s long-term plan was to expand the school’s footprint and, in a short period of time, it has already happened. The roster not only features players from the home Southeastern Pennsylvania region but also those from New Jersey and Maryland. The next stop is Virginia and he feels confident he can spread the word about his program there as well.
The roster for this season will look different, not necessarily by the different hometowns of the players, but by the number of them. Like an homage to the days when freshman were ineligible, there will be roughly 30 Mighty Macs. Some will be on the active roster while others will be placed on the developmental squad.
This type of expanded roster is what Hyman felt was the best way to get his squad out of the COVID shutdown and back into action. It was a move with added costs the school was willing to pick up so the mixture of returning players and incoming freshman, who all had their seasons curtailed to some extent last year, would be allowed to continue their development in different ways. Some would be through games while others we be more in scrimmages and practices.
Like many other Division III coaches, Hyman has a number of responsibilities. There is the coaching, the administrative duties and serving as a brand ambassador for his program, building reputation and reach.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about and working on our brand,” Hyman said.” That means working on social media, making appearances at camps, community events centers. And when all our coaches are out, we make sure to wear Immaculata apparel.”
Those full-spectrum leadership skills were necessary for running a program at a time when so many games were canceled and that bad news had to be delivered to a bunch of hungry college players on a regular basis. After going through that challenge of being away from campus and running countless Zoom meetings, Hyman is beginning the 2021-22 season taking a unique approach.
“My outlook is that the pandemic never happened,” said Hyman. “Last season didn’t happen, we are picking back up just like we lost in the semifinals.”