Michael LaPlante ’85, Head Coach
“At this level,” says Michael LaPlante, “you’ve got to win.”
At age 35, LaPlante, who is the head coach of the Jacksonville State University basketball team, may be the baby of Division I basketball. But he’s not going to let that get in the way of a successful team. Though he’s young, LaPlante has been around the Division I courts for over a decade. Now, having finished his first year at JSU with an 11–18 record, LaPlante is working on creating a new era for the Gamecocks. “In a 12-month period, we’ve had to sign 11 new players,” he says. “Next year, hopefully, we’ll see the fruits of our labor.”
LaPlante has been working his way up the basketball ranks for quite a while. After graduating from Holyoke High School, LaPlante (who is the cousin of Suffield faculty member Gerry LaPlante) completed a postgraduate year at Suffield. His game was polished by the triumvirate of Suffield Academy basketball coaches: Dave Godin, Dennis Kinne and George Pervear. “They’ve had as big of an impact on my improvement as a basketball player and a coach as anyone else I’ve ever worked with,” says LaPlante. “Coach Godin was a tireless worker; he would do everything and anything to try to assist the players. I learned the will to win from Coach Kinne. He has such passion and intensity. He was unbelievable. Even if you were just at dinner with him, you’d learn something. He’s the kind of guy who always has something to say, and I always had something to learn from him. And George Pervear, he was like everybody’s best friend. Even though I only had one year at the Academy, those three guys left a life-long impression on me.”
LaPlante imagines his own coaching style to be of a similar ilk. His style, he says, is intense but fair. “I try to be upbeat and coach from a positive position, but at the same time I need to be demanding and have high expectations.”
From Suffield, LaPlante went north to the University of Maine. He was a four-year letter winner for the Black Bears (1985–1989). During his time at Maine, the team established a new record for wins in a season (20).
After graduating, he moved back to Connecticut and served as assistant coach for the Yale University basketball team, working alongside Dick Kuchen. LaPlante spent several years in that position before returning to Maine, where he worked as a recruiting assistant with Rudy Keeling for five years. During that time, he also began working as a consultant to the Republic of Senegal national basketball team. “As a young guy, being able to go over and influence a country’s basketball program is a great opportun-ity, a great experience,” says LaPlante. He helped run coaching clinics and recruited Senegalese basketball players to the snowy campus in Orono, Maine. Even now, LaPlante goes to Senegal to visit friends, though he no longer acts as a consultant.
After five years on the Maine staff, LaPlante headed to Auburn University, where he was assistant coach to Cliff Ellis (1999 National Coach of the Year) for four years. During his time at Auburn, the team set school records for wins in a season en route to the SEC Champion-ship, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tourn-ament and advancing to the Sweet 16.
LaPlante landed the head coaching job at neighboring JSU in May 2000 and hit the ground running, having to immediately fill six of the team’s scholarship positions. This past year marked somewhat of a transition time for the Gamecocks, and LaPlante is looking forward to seeing what his new roster can do next year.
It’s no fluke that LaPlante ended up as a college basketball coach. He’s been planning this for a long time. But that doesn’t mean he expected to be the head coach of a Division I team. “So much of the attraction in running a Division I program is the coaching opportunity, the chance to deal with young men, with good athletes,” says LaPlante. “But so much more of my time is allocated to other things.” The basketball side of the job, the actual coaching and time spent on the court, only constitutes about 25 percent of the job. Fund-raising, public speaking and other administrative tasks take up the bulk of LaPlante’s time. He works with a staff of three (two full-time recruiters and one full-time on-campus assistant). “We have a young, energetic staff, and it’s good to come to work every day,” he says.
“Basketball has evolved to where it’s become more cutthroat. The stakes as far as coaching turnovers have progressed where you can’t just win basketball games; you have to generate money for your university. You have to produce at a very high level. You have to fill your arenas, and you have to win championships.”
When it comes right down to it, coaching and winning are what it’s all about. “Having a chance to influence the lives of these young people is great,” LaPlante says. “The coaching and competitiveness are what drive me.”