HARROGATE, Tenn. -- Basketball never figured into Josh Schertz's career plan when he was growing up. But before he could say pick and roll, he was on his way to becoming one of the winningest coaches in NCAA Division II men's basketball.
As a 12-year-old, Schertz (pictured) was the No. 1 ranked tennis player for his age group in the state of New York. Born in Brooklyn, he and his family moved out to Montauk, N.Y., on the tip of Long Island when he was three years old. At the age of 12, he moved to Florida to concentrate on his tennis career.
"We moved to Coral Springs and eventually to Boca Raton where we settled in and I went to Spanish River High School," recalled Schertz. "I was traveling nationally playing in tournaments. I had fallen in the rankings a little bit by the time I was 15, everyone else grew and I did not. When I was twelve I was tall enough, but everyone else passed me by. I was still in the top 100 in the United States but I wasn't a top 10 player. At around 16 I stopped playing tennis." After giving up tennis, Schertz completed work for his high school diploma and began college, which is where his basketball odyssey began. "I picked up basketball accidentally," he said. "It was just something for me to do since I had a lot of free time. I could pick up a basketball and just go shoot around. I never really played up to that point. It was something I could do by myself and I picked up the game. "I was going to junior college part time, working full time and playing pick-up basketball," he continued. "It just so happened I was playing in a summer league and by happenstance a junior college coach from New Jersey was on vacation and came to watch his friends' grandson play in a game and I scored like 40 points. He asked me if I ever considered playing college basketball. I wound up going up to New Jersey to visit the County College of Morris (Randolph, NJ). My freshman year we were very good and went to the JUCO National Tournament where we made it to the Elite Eight. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed it." The experience in New Jersey allowed Schertz to work on his academics and after one year, he transferred to Weber College (now Weber International University) in Florida where he was a role player. "I played my sophomore year at Weber where I was a reserve guard and role player. I had a good experience and enjoyed being a part of a team," said Schertz. At that point, Schertz was married and had his first child, Jordan. It was decision time and he decided to concentrate on raising his family while his then wife finished her college degree. "I went to work as a full time security guard on campus at night and she went to school during the day. We lived in a double wide just a half mile off campus and we made it work," he chuckled. "We got through that year and I started to get the itch to play again. Going back to Weber wasn't an option." Schertz decided to pursue playing opportunities and found a spot at Piedmont College in Winston-Salem, NC. "I started calling around to schools and quickly found out that there wasn't much demand for a NAIA reserve guard who was 5'8" at best," he continued. "I played there (Piedmont) for a year and at that point I thought I wanted to coach. I was getting my degree in P.E. and thought I would coach high school basketball or teach elementary school when I got my degree. It was the first time I got significant playing time and I would up leading the country in assists at that level. We had a real good group on that team." It was here that the basketball gods stepped in and set him on his future career path. "After my season at Piedmont I decided to coach at a summer camp at Wake Forest," Schertz remembered. "Coach Odom (Dave Odom, Wake Forest) noticed me there and he was friends with Kevin Billerman, the coach at FAU (Florida Atlantic University), which is in Boca Raton. He was looking for a graduate assistant. My dad knew someone who was a vice president there and I wound up going down there to interview for the GA spot even though I had not graduated yet. "I went down and interviewed and didn't hear anything back so I was all set to continue at Piedmont, play my senior year, finish my degree and teach," he continued. "During all of this I read a book by John Fienstein that summer that chronicled an entire ACC season. After reading that book, I thought college-coaching sounded amazing. About a week before school was to start at Piedmont I got a call from FAU and they said we would like me to come to FAU. They assured me that all of my credits would transfer and I would be an undergraduate on the staff." So off he goes to start his college coaching career under Kevin Billerman at FAU, which is a Division I program. "It all kind of came together pretty quickly. We literally packed up and headed back home to Boca. Through a series of fluky circumstances I wind up at my fourth school in four years." The experience at Florida Atlantic exposed Schertz to all facets of coaching the college game. "I worked mornings at the athletic club then went to class and was in the office by one," recalled Schertz. "I did laundry, travelled, clipped film and got a chance to do scouting reports. It was a great experience, we had a great staff. They gave me a lot of responsibility and it was everything I thought it would be." The experience also gave Schertz a glimpse at the harsh realities of the coaching profession. "The season came to an end, it wasn't a great season," he said. "I was meeting with Coach Billerman in his office one day and they came in and fired him while I was sitting there. That was my induction into hoops." During his journey, Schertz has been able to take pieces of each experience to build his coaching style. At County College of Morris he played for Jack Martin, a legendary coach in the junior college ranks, he played for John Dunlap at Weber, Nathan Racey at Piedmont, worked under Billerman at FAU and Bart Lundy, the current head coach at Queens University, at High Point University and Queens. "There are pieces that I've taken from each one," pointed out Schertz. "Jack was just so cool, related well to his players, was never stressed and gave off a vibe of 'everything is going to be fine'. That permeated the whole team. John Dunlap was just amazing to his players. A great human being who treated us all so well. You knew that he cared about everybody. "Coach Billerman was really good with the X's and O's and the way he taught the game. At Piedmont Nathan just allowed you to play, he gave you a lot of freedom while at FAU Billerman was very structured in how we played. Nathan was very free flowing and let you loose. I've tried to find the equilibrium in those two styles. We always say we want to play fast and loose and disciplined. I want to find a balance between those two contrasting ideologies." One thing that rang true for Schertz at each stop along his journey was the fact that he enjoyed each experience, starting at County College of Morris and through his time at FAU. That has help set the standard for his success at LMU. "Our whole ambition here is that we want our guys to have a great student-athlete experience," emphasized Schertz. "There is a lot that goes into that from how we treat them, the classes that they take, making sure we have all the necessary tools from an infrastructure standpoint, development academically and in the weight room. All these different areas help them have a tremendous experience. "We make sure that they know we are committed to them," Schertz continued. "We are invested in that their growth is our priority. We want them to be the very best they can be, not just as a player, but as a student and human being and we will utilize every tool we have to help them with that next step in life." With success, there comes the inevitable pressure to continue winning. How does Schertz balance the pressure and his non-coaching life? "You can't live your life in fear of failure," said Schertz. "I'm pretty good about coming in and trying to do my best every day. You are going to put your signature on your work and pursue excellence. For me I have my wife, Natalia, and my two boys, Jordan and Jaden. They allow me to decompress and get away. "In this career you have to find the equilibrium between being passionate and not being obsessive," he continued. "You can't define yourself just by these results. At the end you can define yourself by your legacy....your professional legacy and your personal legacy. Your professional legacy is easy, what have you accomplished during your career. However, to me your personal legacy is greater and that is tied up in the people that know you best and love you the most. I'm much more concerned with my personal legacy. My priorities are being the best husband and father while doing my job to the best of my abilities. I'm really happy with my life; my passions are my family and my friends. Natalia and the boys have been very good about never putting me in a position to have to choose." Despite all the wins (266 to be exact), Coach of the Year Awards, championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, the most satisfying part of the profession for Schertz is graduation. "You watch kids come in as 18 years old and leave at 22 or 23 as young men," pointed out Schertz. "You take joy in their successes. You take great pride in the how they develop and the people they are. Seeing guys come from difficult circumstances, you wonder how they even got to college. They come from these difficult backgrounds and somehow are tough enough to get to college and achieve the grades and test score to get in. Then watching them take advantage of that opportunity and walk across that stage four or five years later with that degree in hand knowing that they have the degree and the habits to capitalize on that opportunity." Building winning programs, strong family bonds and long lasting relationships with his players are what make Josh Schertz tick.
Photos by Jamie H. Vaught