Head coach of the Rowan women’s basketball team Demetrius Poles has won the title of New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Coach of the Year for the 2022-2023 season. It is the second time in his career that Coach Poles has received this honor.
Coach Poles became the interim head coach in the 2019-2020 season, but his connection to Rowan, passion for the game and life experiences started long before then.
In his high school years Coach Poles won a state championship at Delsea Regional High School and was named South Jersey Player of the Year, so he knows what it takes to get to the top. He also had success at college playing Division I at Saint Joseph’s University before transferring to Rowan University.
Coach Poles was the starting center, led the team in rebounds and was a key member of the National Championship team in 1996. Now, he hopes his competitive nature translates into success for his players.
“I’m very competitive,” Coach Poles said. “I like to win, I like to win it all. I have won as a player, I want the young ladies to experience one as me coaching them.”
Coach Poles played professionally across the globe, which eventually developed into coaching at the international level.
“So when I was in Argentina playing professional basketball, one of my good Swedish friends… He called me while I was in Argentina and he gave me the job, he said ‘you’re coming back to Sweden to coach, I told you, you’d be a great coach,’” Coach Poles said. “I started in Sweden with youth basketball, then I got some professional jobs. I did very well with Sweden, and then I got a chance to work with the NBA to hone my skills with a lot of good coaches, the best coaches in the world from Europe and America.”
Poles coached at the Reebok/Adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy from 2004 to 2012. During that span, he coached 81 international players who were drafted into the NBA from the Eurocamp. He was named the 2012-2013 Eurobasket.com Coach of the Year.
Following that experience, he returned to Glassboro in 2013 where he joined the men’s basketball staff as an assistant coach for three years. He then joined former women’s head coach Gabby Lisella in the 2016-2017 season and has been with the women’s team ever since.
“[Rowan] it’s my home, first of all,” Coach Poles said. “My mother went here, when she was a high schooler at Glassboro High School, she took lessons here on campus. I grew up here, and I saw how everything has grown. I like representing my hometown after me being all around the world.”
As interim coach in his fourth season with the women’s team, he led them to a 25-4 record and a NJAC Championship while earning his first NJAC Coach of the Year award.
Although he has only been the head coach for four seasons, he has made impacts that stem from beyond the game of basketball.
Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance and Academic Support Mandy Jiang, who was a member of the women’s team from 2013-2017 and five-year assistant coach, reflected on her time with Coach Poles.
“As a coach, he is one of the smartest individuals I have ever met, he understands the game, he can see things before they even happen. He has a brilliant basketball IQ, he’s just a basketball junkie,” Jiang said. “I learned a lot from just one year under him and I was fortunate enough to have two great years, personally I can’t imagine having been assistant coach for someone better than Coach Poles.”
Recently, Coach Poles has had some health struggles. On KYW Newsradio’s 1-on-1 Matt Leon in May of 2021, Coach Poles elaborated on those issues.
“I got diagnosed with cancer in December , multiple myeloma, and then at the end of February I got diagnosed with COVID. I was on a ventilator for days and was in the hospital for almost a month,” Coach Poles said. “It was a rough ride, but now I’m on the road to recovery. I also had kidney failure in December so I’m going to dialysis three times a week as well.”
Jiang reflected on Poles’ battle off the court as well.
“As a person off the court, he is one of the strongest people I know,” Jiang said. “To be able to go through what he has gone through with the strength and resiliency, he found a way to always constantly persevere and the team, his family and his boys really helped him.”
Amassing a 60-21 record throughout three years, a NJAC title, a NCAA berth and two NJAC Coach of the Year awards is incredible, but Coach Poles wants his players to understand the concept of mental strength and never giving up.
“Not giving up on anything in your life, perseverance. They all know what I’ve been through, personally, with cancer and almost dying of COVID. If I could give them some type of encouragement, and some type of lesson learned, learn from me about what I went through personally and never give up,” Coach Poles said. “It’s never over, no matter what. I was on my deathbed, and I made it back here and nobody expected me to. You can persevere through life, and all of your problems and just make it better.”
His players have valued their time with Coach Poles and have picked up on lessons both on and off the floor.
“We have this word ‘sisu’ that he’s taught us. It means overcoming adversity,” fifth-year Grace Marshall said. “Being really tough and overcoming the things that you face in life, he shows us what it really means to be tough.”
Senior Nicole Mallard added to what her teammate had to say on their coach and what they have learned from him over the years.
“One thing I’ve learned is that nothing is given to you,” Mallard said. “No matter how high you rank, no matter how much talent you have, you always have to work for what you want. It’s always going to be a journey no matter what.”
Coach Poles explained how he finds strength within his family.
“I have two boys and they keep me going,” Coach Poles said. “I’m newly married and I have a beautiful wife and she saved my life, and she saved my kids. My kids, my family at home, they keep me going.”
Jiang made it clear how highly Coach Poles is thought of in the basketball community.
“He came in here [Rowan] and hit the ground running, we won an NJAC Championship in the first year, and I think everyone could see why,” Jiang said. “To get the NJAC Coach of the Year for the second time in his fourth year as a head coach is unbelievable, and it just speaks volumes to the type of person that he is and what the NJAC coaches think of him.”
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