When former Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball standout Nate Axelrod returned to OWU to become the Battling Bishops’ assistant men’s basketball coach, it was perhaps the best career move he could have made.
Head coach Mike DeWitt’s previous assistant, Nate Conley, was named the head coach at Manchester (Ind.) University earlier this month, becoming the sixth of DeWitt’s former assistant coaches to go on to a head coaching position. Four others are current head coaches — John Ellenwood at Ashland University, Jon VanderWal at Marietta College, Scott Cutter at Defiance College, and Scott Cooper at Indiana University-South Bend.
“I think our assistant coaches are attractive to other schools for a variety of reasons and I believe that one of my responsibilities as a head coach is to mentor and prepare them for advancing their careers,” said DeWitt.
He explains that OWU assistants are given responsibilities in every aspect of the program in order to prepare them to become a head coach.
It’s not only DeWitt’s former assistants who are progressing to the coaching ranks. DeWitt also has two former players who are head coaches in Travis Schwab at Muskingum University and Andy Winters at Otterbein University, and two additional players who are assistant coaches in Rob Gardiner at Ashland University and Seth Clark at Wabash College.
Axelrod began his coaching career at Oberlin College last season, then accepted a position on Winters’ staff at Otterbein. When the Ohio Wesleyan position opened, he jumped at the chance.
“This school is a really special place to me and I’m grateful that I get to contribute to the basketball program and campus community, especially after going to school here,” said Axelrod.
He was heavily involved with player development last year at Oberlin and believes that is one of his strengths. He mentions that skill development is a big factor that has contributed to OWU’s success in the past, and he plans to help build on it.
“I feel great working for Coach DeWitt because we had a great relationship when I played for him and I have a ton of respect for his success,” said Axelrod. “He has built an incredible culture here.”
Axelrod is eager to learn from DeWitt. According to Axelrod, DeWitt was a very supportive mentor throughout his playing career.
“I’m excited to build on our relationship and help him add on more wins to his coaching record,” said Axelrod.
Axelrod’s favorite thing about coaching is that it does not feel like a typical job with the fast-paced work environment.
“I’m surrounded by a great group of guys on our team and they make it a fun environment to be in,” said Axelrod. “Interacting with them every day definitely makes this job special.”
DeWitt is excited to have Axelrod join the men’s basketball staff.
“Nate had one of the best playing careers in OWU men’s basketball history, and to provide him the opportunity to return to his alma mater is very rewarding,” said DeWitt.
He hopes that Axelrod will be able to help maintain the program’s success and tradition with his ability to teach and relate to the players.
“He has exemplified what we want our program to represent in terms of success on and off the court as a player,” said DeWitt.
Axelrod capped his Battling Bishop career by winning the Jostens Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding NCAA Division III men’s basketball player and receiving NCAA Division III Player of the Year laurels from D3hoops.com.
He was a three-time All-America selection by both the National Association of Basketball Coaches and D3hoops.com, a two-time Academic All-America choice, and North Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year for three years in a row, making him the first men’s basketball player in conference history to be so honored.
He also was a four-time, first-team All-NCAC selection, only the third men’s basketball player in conference history to accomplish that feat, and was named NCAC Newcomer of the Year in 2015. During his senior year, he led the NCAC in assists and in scoring with 19.2 points per game, becoming the first player in conference history to lead the league in scoring and assists in a single season. Axelrod finished his career as the second Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball player and the fourth in NCAC history to surpass the 2,000-point mark. He also is Ohio Wesleyan’s all-time leader in assists with 655 and consecutive games started with 114.
DeWitt, Axelrod, and the Bishops open their season on Friday, Nov. 15, against Albion at Capital University in Columbus. Ohio Wesleyan’s first home game is on Saturday, Nov. 30, against Adrian.