Former assistant Rob Ehsan recalls Maryland GA offer, recruiting Kyrie, Gary Williams

Former Maryland assistant Rob Ehsan was named the new head coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago back in April, marking his second stint as head coach after going 76-57 overall and posting a winning overall record in all four seasons at UAB. Ehsan also served as an assistant at UAB prior to becoming head coach, along with stints at Virginia Tech and most recently Stanford, but it was Maryland where the California native got his first shot at coaching.

Ehsan talked about how he got his foot in the door in College Park with Triple J Sports Studios earlier this month as he called former head coach Gary Williams “single-handedly the person most responsible for my success professionally.” Ehsan also recalled his pursuit of current Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving out of high school, along with how his relationship with Greivis Vasquez impacted the 2008-09 season.

On how his first job with Maryland materialized

“The first thing is when I was in college, I would go out and I would work the Maryland basketball camps and that literally came off just an idea kind of that I had. I was cold emailing some of the big, storied programs — Maryland, Duke, [North] Carolina. Growing up in California where we did, like ACC basketball at that time was so big and I remember Maryland, their assistant coach, I actually said I would come work for free. I just wanted to get experience. Maryland’s assistant coach said, hey, I got you down, you can come work camp. I did that for a couple years, every summer. One summer I took with, you know, Jesse Pruitt, who played with us in college and now is a coach, so I took him with me one summer out to Maryland but I wasn’t sure when I was in college, especially at the end that I wanted to coach. One of the reasons is, I think the financial piece. Being an economics degree from Davis and seeing our coaches who didn’t make a lot of money, and we’re kind of you know, financially they were fine, but they weren’t making — they weren’t killing it. And of our friends now we wanted to, we had big dreams, we were gonna buy big houses and drive big cars. So I think, for me, the entrepreneurial part of me, wasn’t really sure that I wanted to coach because of my experience seeing those coaches. So I got that job at, it was actually Accenture…I was planning to do it. I was going to do it unless something came about that was kind of magical, I was going to do it. In the offseason, Maryland’s GA job came open. I remember driving…I remember it was like Memorial Day so around this time, you know, I was driving houseboats with a couple of the guys and I found out their GA job came open. And I called and I said hey, I’d loved out the job and I was planning to go work their summer camp anyways, that summer before I started in August. And I think in the back of my mind I was doing this just because what if something crazy happens where like I could ever get a job in coaching or I wanted to keep those connections just because. Just because of like, you never know what happens. And you know, lo and behold, they had that job open. I went out there. I interviewed for the GA job. They offered me the job. I told Accenture I was not going to go and my whole career went a different path. And at that time, honestly if I didn’t get that Maryland job, I wasn’t going to coach. But one of the things I sold them on I think when I was interviewed with them and I had been out there a lot was I was like I don’t think they realize how big of an opportunity this was for me. I mean, this was only a grad assistant for them. But for me and even our friend group…this was like the biggest thing in the world. How did a kid from California, play to UC Davis you know, small D1 at the time, like get an opportunity to go be a GA at Maryland? Like Maryland to us at that time was bigger than life, right? And I told them that. I did a good job I think of selling that because it was and then, you know, right from there, it just kind of changed the whole trajectory of not only my career but my life, to be honest.”

On working with former Maryland head coach Gary Williams

“I got a PhD in running and coaching at a high level of college basketball and running a high-level basketball team. And Maryland basketball at that time, it’s not just coaching. I mean, it’s like a Fortune 500 company. Especially, administratively, all this stuff that coach had to do and I was so close to him in the early years helping him almost as a personal secretary. So I got to just get a PhD and immerse myself in everything that comes with running a college basketball program. And from when I started as a GA to where I finished with him in six years as like an assistant coach, I was able — this was a blessing in my career — to start at the bottom of the organization and if you will, the staff and get an experience in everything on the way up. We also had some great assistant coaches who I think I learned so much from during that time. Coach is single-handedly the person most responsible for my success professionally because he took a chance on me at 24 years old, 25 years old, and really made my career and jumpstarted my career by making me an assistant coach at Maryland at that age. He trusted me. I think he had told a few people that, he had kind of said to me at times that my ability like — at that level you’re dealing with like any business. You’re just dealing with a lot of problems on a daily basis or you’re solving problems on a daily basis, whether it’s basketball on the court, whether it’s off the court whether there’s this. There’s so much to do. And then I do remember him saying that like I had immersed myself in all these things and meaning that anytime there was some kind of problem came up, he was observing that Rob was involved in helping us in helping solve it and I think being a problem solver, being a worker at that time and then earning his trust were two things that really valued me. And I think the lesson too, for me, is I’ve always thought like he gave me an opportunity at a young age when he could have hired somebody with a lot more experience because he trusted me. And I do think you see it all the time, coaches are sometimes hesitant to promote from within, especially like younger coaches who have less experience and a lot of times when they do promote from within on someone they trust, on someone who’s shown loyalty and work ethic almost, [it] always turns out to be a positive. It’s just I think mentally sometimes for people getting over the hump of hiring somebody with that’s younger or with less experience.”

On recruiting, pursuit of Kyrie Irving out of high school

“I think I learned so much and got to experience so much at a young age and really, like anything, make mistakes at a young age that just were able to help me in the future. I think that those, you know, the experiences I had going through, as you just mentioned, recruiting and a lot of recruiting misses…I mean, it was a who’s who of guys that I tried on and missed on at Maryland. Like I was joking with my son because I had his number in my phone from 2010, but Kyrie Irving. I was one of the first guys to offer Kyrie Irving a scholarship. I offered him a scholarship, went to see him a bunch. We ended up taking another point guard. He had kind of blown up, we didn’t think we could get up. So we took another point guard and I remember where I was when Kyrie called me and said, ‘hey, Coach, like I saw you got another point guard. What does that mean?’ I’m like, yeah, man, ‘hey, listen, we still like to recruit you, but it might be a little bit tougher now that we took another point guard’ and then he just became obviously, you know, one of the players in the world over time and went to Duke and all that. But getting those experiences at a young age were invaluable. Being able to be at it at like, we would joke about it because I was only a couple years older than the players so being able to relate to them on that level, especially working especially when Coach Williams was an older Hall of Fame type coach, I was able to connect with the guys on a different level. And I was able to be a friend, be a coach, train them, work them out, but also you know, be a great listener to them at times, as well.”

On his relationship with former star Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez

“One of the other best things that came from me at a young age was in the 2008-2009 season at Maryland, we were kind of struggling and we were playing Greivis Vasquez off the ball at the two because just from a personnel standpoint, he was our leading scorer. And he was great, like he was going to do whatever coach said and he played some point guard as well. And I’ll never forget like we lost I think to Clemson pretty bad and him and I were in the gym one night or, you know, or we went to lunch or something the next day and we were talking and he was like, ‘hey, man’. He’s like, he was kind of like asking me like, maybe I should like, I want to play the point. Like I want to be the starting point guard. And keep in mind, he’s our leading scorer, leading minutes and he did play some point. I think he was in his mind he was a two. He probably started at the two because we had Eric Hayes at the one who kind of brought the ball before and I was like I thought about and so I’m like I say okay, yeah, awesome. And I’ll never forget like I’m like, that’s a good point. I went into our staff meeting and I’m saying I told coach I said ‘hey, you know, Greivis wants to play the point’. And keep in mind, it wasn’t that big of a deal, meaning like it wasn’t a big switch. He had been playing the point at times, right. I was like he wants to be the point. I think it’s a good idea. And lo and behold, we switched into the point guard. He started playing really well, like better than he had been playing. The team started playing better. We ended up going to the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t the only reason like we were successful at the end of the year, but we had a great run after that. And it was about the mental part of him being the point guard, but I think if I wasn’t as close to him and we didn’t have that relationship and me to be able to really listen and then take that feedback and bring it to coach. And coach’s humility too to say, okay, yeah, I think that’s like, let’s go with that. Let’s try something different. That was kind of really just a great lesson that I learned that at a young age, too. It’s like you got to listen to the guys and especially as an assistant coach, man. You can help solve problems like that big because of your relationships with the guys.”

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