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Marlon Sears eager to continue moving Amherst College basketball in positive direction

  • MARLON SEARS



For the Gazette
Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Though Marlon Sears began his own basketball career in the Midwest, where he played for both Western Illinois and Newman University, he’s no stranger to what the game looks like in the Northeast, having coached several stints in the area.

He’s also no stranger to Amherst College’s reputation as a Division III powerhouse, so when he got the call that he was going to be their next head men’s basketball coach, he knew how significant the moment was.

“Trust me, I was blown away,” Sears said. “I was stunned, because it’s a dream job. It’s one of those jobs I think everyone in the country would die to have.”

Sears’ qualifications span nearly two decades of assistant and head coaching roles, beginning as an assistant during the first five years of Binghamton’s program. He also had stops on the benches of Wagner and High Point before moving to the Ivy League, taking assistant coaching jobs at Columbia and Cornell at the turn of the decade.

His work earned him his first head coaching job at Montclair State University in 2015. During four years leading the Red Hawks, Sears amassed a 59-46 record, most notably going 18-9 in their 2017-18 campaign.

Sears returned to Columbia as an associate head coach this past season, his final stop before his current job leading the Mammoths. While he has gained a wealth of experience and success from his various gigs, Sears credits relationship-building as his biggest ally as he enters the elite NESCAC.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned (as a coach) is the ability to connect with people,” Sears said. “I think that’s extremely important as you grow in this profession. You start to understand that being the head basketball coach is bigger than just basketball … this is about the student-athlete’s dreams and their goals, and figuring out as a coach how I can help accomplish those.”

As Sears began contemplating his next chapter over the past few months, he pointed to Amherst’s legacy as a basketball institution as reason to make the leap. The Mammoths, a staple of NESCAC basketball and a powerhouse in Division III, have dominated since the turn of the century. Amherst has made the NCAA Tournament 18 times in the last 20 years, with two national championships and eight NESCAC championships in that same span.

“The biggest draw was that the entire basketball community understands and knows that Amherst is a dream destination,” Sears said. “Being around the best and the brightest, guys that want to achieve on the basketball court and in the classroom — that’s what really drew me there.”

On the other side of that coin, though, Sears knows he has a legacy to continue, taking over a program that had been shaped by David Hixon for the past 42 years. Over his four-plus decades as head coach, Hixon won 826 games, good for 15th all time across all divisions in men’s basketball. All of the Mammoths’ 20 NCAA tournament appearances, eight conference championships and two NCAA titles (2007, 2013) happened under his watch.

While Sears knows he can’t fully fill the shoes of Hixon, he’s prepared to build on the lifetime of work that his predecessor put into the program.

“Coach Hixon … you don’t just replace guys like that,” Sears said. “What he was able to do as an alum and as head basketball coach of Amherst College over the last 40 years … anyone that would walk in and say they’re going to accomplish what he accomplished would be lying, in my opinion. I’m just hoping that I can continue to move Amherst basketball and this community forward in a positive direction.”

Sears inherits a Mammoth squad that missed its second NCAA tournament in three years. Amherst, which was led by interim coach Aaron Toomey while Hixon took a sabbatical, fell to Colby in the semifinals of the NESCAC Tournament.

The program last won the NESCAC championship in 2019, its first since 2014 when it finished its streak of three straight titles.

The Mammoths graduated three seniors this year, including essential front court personnel in forwards Eric Sellew and Josh Chery. There’s still plenty of talent left on the roster, though, and Sears is excited to see how they jell with their upcoming freshman class.

“I think we have a great core group of guys coming back and some great incoming freshmen,” Sears said. “The biggest (goal) for me next year is to connect with the student-athletes, and to really build and help those guys accomplish what they want to accomplish as we go through this year. They have some lofty goals, and it’s my job to put them in a position to be able to accomplish those goals.”

Sears will officially take over the position on July 1. For now, he just wants the community to know how thankful he is to be welcomed as a part of it.

“The biggest thing I would love for everyone to know is that I am absolutely thrilled to be joining the community and the college,” Sears said. “It is an absolute dream job, and I’m thrilled for both me and my family.”