BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Since graduating from Bridgewater College in 2004, Andrew Lacey always wanted to coach college basketball.
Now, that goal is a reality. Less than a month ago, Lacey was named the head basketball coach at Richard Bland College, a two-year college in Petersburg, Va.
Lacey played four seasons for Bill Leatherman at Bridgewater and was a key reserve each season, playing in a total of 98 games during his career.
"When I was a senior at Bridgewater and talking with Coach Leatherman about my future, I really wanted to be a college coach," Lacey said in a recent visit to the Bridgewater area to see his son Jayden. "That business is so tough to get into. At the time, getting into high school coaching seemed much more stable."
Following graduation, Lacey started his coaching career at his alma mater, Washington & Lee H.S. in Montross, Va., where he taught 8th grade math and coached the boys' junior varsity team for two years.
Lacey then coached varsity girls' basketball for the next four seasons at two different high schools, Skyline in Front Royal and North Stafford.
After a two-year stint coaching boys' basketball in Pinehurst, N.C., Lacey moved back to Virginia to coach the boys program at Varina High School in Richmond.
"Varina is a huge football school," said Lacey. "My first year we were 6-15 and we had three seniors on the team. One senior went on to play football at Virginia, one ran track at ECU and the other went to Radford. But we had some young guys on that team to build around.
"The next year I think we finished 12-14, but we got on a roll toward the end of that season and won the conference and then the program took off."
During Lacey's final three seasons, Varina emerged as one of the premier programs in the state. The team reached the state quarterfinals in 2017 and then the 2018 squad won the ultimate prize, the 5A State Championship. Varina made a strong run to repeat in 2019 before its season ended in the state semifinals.
This spring, the head coaching job at Richard Bland College opened, and Lacey thought it was the right time to pursue his goal of becoming a college coach.
"The goal at Varina was never to win multiple state titles, the goal was to build a championship caliber program and I was able to check that off my list," said Lacey. "We made the start tournament three years in a row, we won a state title. We won 109 games in my six years at Varina. We had a 38-game winning streak and we were 51-4 over those last two years. We had good players who were getting looks from good college programs. Virginia was in our gym, Coach Mike Rhoades of VCU was in our gym. We accomplished a lot in those six years. I was a hot name in the Richmond area. The timing, the location, everything seemed to line up. I felt like I had to give it a shot."
Lacey was in Minneapolis at the Final Four when he received the call offering him the head coaching job at Richard Bland. Since then, things have been moving at warp speed.
There was a 20-year period where sports were not offered at the two-year school. In 2013, the college reintroduced athletics and in 2015 the basketball team won the national JUCO Division III title.
This past season was the first for the program at the Division I scholarship level and the team struggled to a 6-21 record. Lacey faces a complete rebuilding job and is starting from scratch when it pertains to personnel.
"Last year the team finished the year with five players and none of those guys are coming back," said Lacey. "My number one priority is finding players to make sure we have enough to play next season. The previous staff had three commitments and two of those guys are still coming and I'm still working with the third guy. I've been able to add six commitments so we're now up to eight and we would like to get that number up to 14."
The college offers Lacey everything he needs to build a winning program. "I've got the support of the administration. We have great facilities. We've got a nice gym, a great weight room, great team room. It has the feel of a four-year program."
With his ties to the high schools and AAU basketball communities, Lacey is confident he can lure the right players to Richard Bland.
"I have strong relationships with the high school coaches and AAU coaches, especially in the Richmond area," said Lacey. "I've hit the 757 and 804 areas hard for players. In the future, we're going to branch out and try to bring the best players from the state to our program."
Lacey's teams will play a style much different than the way he played during his career at Bridgewater.
"If Coach Leatherman gets the chance to see my team, he won't like the way we play. We'll play way too fast for his liking," Lacey said with a laugh. "The style I like to play, I learned from my high school coach. The things I learned from Coach Leatherman and still practice as a coach deal more with the structure of a program, the attention to detail, the personal relationships.
"Coach Leatherman always wanted us to dress right, speak right, be on time. He held players accountable. I may not be quite as strict in some of those areas, but they are still areas of importance."
Getting to know the players and families will be a focal point of Lacey's recruiting practices.
"When Coach Leatherman recruited me, he came to my house and had dinner and talked to me and my mom about Bridgewater College. That was the deciding factor in me choosing Bridgewater. People are going to see me around the state. When I'm out recruiting. I'm going to get out and meet the players, meet the families. Building those personal relationships are key."
Lacey also understands the importance of relating to today's student-athletes.
"One thing I've learned for sure, if you're going to be successful as a coach you have to be able to adapt," said Lacey.
"Kids these days are different than kids from my generation. They just are.," Lacey added. "If I call a recruit on the phone, it's a big deal to them. They don't call anyone on the phone, they're texting or on twitter all the time.
"Texting, twitter, instagram, that's how kids today communicate. As a coach, I can't take those things away from them. But I can talk to them about the right way to use twitter and other social media platforms. And I can learn how to use those tools as a coach to communicate better with my players and recruits.
"I think I relate well with today's players," Lacey added. "If you can't relate to the kids, if you can't adapt, you can't win."