Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
Will Chavis grew up down the street from Drexel University. Having been raised at 33rd & Wallace Streets, he knew his way around the Daskalakis Athletic Center, also known as the DAC, at a young age.
“I used to sneak in the backdoor of the gym to get shots up,” Chavis said. “We used to sneak in because it didn’t look the way it looks now. The backdoor was usually open because it was so hot in there, and we would sneak in. They also had an outside court where student dorms are now located.”
Will Chavis (above) turned his successful stint at Bishop McDevitt into an assistant coaching position with Drexel. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It was 1995, and the Dragons were in the midst of their most successful run in program history behind players like Malik Rose, Jeff Myers and Mike Derocckis under the direction of head coach Bill Herrion. That season, Drexel claimed its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, an upset over No. 5 Memphis, which featured the late Lorenzen Wright. Rose, who went on to play 13 years in the NBA and won a pair of championships with the San Antonio Spurs, finished his DU career as the only player in program history to record over 2,000 points and 1,500 rebounds.
Chavis would be in the DAC shooting for hours, perfecting his game and imagining himself playing on a team like the one the Dragons were rolling out onto that very floor each night. It made him feel a part of their success. This summer, Chavis will not only be able to shoot in the DAC once again; he’ll be teaching the new group of Dragons how to play the game.
He was hired to join head coach Zach Spiker’s staff in June, giving him his first collegiate coaching position. When former assistant coach Mike Jordan returned to Colgate this offseason, following a one-year stint with the Dragons, Chavis was the first person Spiker called.
“He talked about how I carry myself on the court as a coach,” Chavis said. “He also talked about X's and O's. He appreciates me as a coach and as a person. He knows I can coach and that’s something that drew him to me.”
The two first developed a relationship while Chavis was coaching at now-closed Bishop McDevitt in Wyncote. It was the Royal Lancers’ Philadelphia Catholic League opener against Archbishop Wood in Dec. 2019 and Spiker was in the gym.
“He texted me after the game and kept in contact from there,” Chavis said. The two grew to know each other further during the COVID-19 pandemic as Spiker reached out to Chavis, who lives in Northern Liberties, to check in on him and his family during the Black Lives Matter protests within the city last summer.
“That’s something people underestimate about him,” Chavis said. “He has that level of care and understanding for people. That’s something I’m really learning about him now. He has an innate ability to connect with people.”
Chavis began his ascension to coaching at a young age, learning from two individuals who had a massive influence on his career as a player and his evolution as a mentor. James Wright, who played at Overbrook High School, started the youth basketball program at the Mantua Recreation Center and was one of Chavis’ first coaches.
Wright passed away in 2004 and the rec center was renamed the Wright Recreation Center in his honor.
Another coach whose tutelage rubbed off on Chavis was Horace “Pappy” Owens, who coached Chavis growing up.
Owens scored more than 1,400 points at Dobbins Tech and was named a McDonald’s All-American in 1979. He scored 18 points in that game which featured former Chicago Bulls guard John Paxson, former Lakers guard Byron Scott and four future Hall-of-Famers in Isiah Thomas, James Worthy, Ralph Sampson and Dominique Wilkins. He played collegiately at Rhode Island and was drafted No. 44 by the New Jersey Nets in the 1983 NBA Draft but never played in the NBA.
Owens joined the La Salle University coaching staff as an assistant in 2003 and shifted his role to Special Assistant to head coach Ashley Howard in 2018.
Chavis credits Wright and Owens on how they taught him “to carry myself and how to be a competitor.”
After a playing career that began at Engineering & Sciences alongside Lynn Greer II, who went on to star at Temple, and scoring 1,070 career points, Chavis committed to the University of New Hampshire in the America East, which featured Drexel at the time. Jay Wright was at Hofstra, Mike Brey was at Delaware and Dr. John Giannini was at the University of Maine. Chavis made the 1998-99 All-Rookie Team.
He decided to transfer to Tennessee State and had to sit out a year. After Tigers’ head coach Frankie Allen was fired, he chose to transfer to Panola College, a JUCO in Texas, to play for Scott Monarch, now the head coach at Grayson College.
He was named a National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Second Team All-American and had offers from a multitude of high-level Division I programs including Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State, to name a few. He chose to go to Texas Tech and became Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Bob Knight’s first recruit at the helm of the Red Raiders. He played two years there, helping Texas Tech reach the NCAA Tournament in 2002.
Knight, whose 899 career wins rank No. 4 all-time in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball history, was also instrumental in formulating a lot of Chavis’ habits as a player that would translate to coaching.
“One thing that I learned from him is that you need to have supreme confidence in yourself,” Chavis said. “That comes from preparation. He always talked about being prepared for new opportunities. I try to do that all the time and prepare myself for opportunities.”
His professional career took him to France, Italy, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Germany, where he was the associate head coach for Nürnberg Falcons BC for his final two years with the team.
His coaching acumen was an appealing quality for Spiker but having played and/or coached in so many diverse places was a quality few possess at any coaching level.
“It’s been pretty seamless because I do have connections in Philly but I also went to college in Tennessee, New Hampshire and Texas twice,” Chavis said. “I’m all over the place and all of the people that I’ve met now live in new places. My roots don’t just touch Philly. I still have friends in the countries I played in Europe.”
He returned to the U.S in 2016 and his domestic coaching career began at Bishop McDevitt a year later. It was on Royal Avenue that his future on the sideline began to take shape. He led the Royal Lancers to the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs in his first season. It marked their first trip to the postseason since 2014.
Behind a pair of West Chester University commits Robert Smith Jr. and Jamil Manigo, Chavis was named PCL Coach of the Year in his second season and Bishop McDevitt advanced to its first league semifinal appearance since 1989. They added to their accolades that season by advancing to the program’s first-ever state semifinal appearance and winning a program-record 21 games.
In November, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Bishop McDevitt was to close at the end of the academic school year. Chavis coached the final season of Royal Lancers basketball and finished his career with a 63-33 overall record.
Time was the biggest aspect to Chavis’ success at Bishop McDevitt because “in high school, we have a shorter amount of time to spend with guys and we have to maximize that time you have.” He has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of time he has to work with his players at the collegiate level.
“In college, we have more time to go over small details,” Chavis said. “Of course, you can do that in high school, especially if you want to have a good program but that’s definitely the one thing I see including resources and time nurturing each player.”
Chavis is arriving at an opportune time, when the Dragons’ program appears to be ascending once again. Drexel finished 12-8, 4-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in a shortened season due to the pandemic. Still, the Dragons made an improbable run through the conference tournament, winning three games in three days culminating with a win over Elon in the CAA Tournament championship to propel them to their first NCAA Tournament berth since Rose, Myers and Derocckis beat Memphis. They fell to No. 1 seed Illinois in the opening round.
The biggest loss from last year’s team is T.J. Bickerstaff, the 6-9 forward who averaged 10.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season, who transferred to Boston College. Also gone is guard Zach Walton, who was third on the team in scoring at 10.5 ppg.
Rising senior point guard Camren Wynter, who led the team in scoring (16.2) and assists (5.2), returns as does 6-8 big man James Butler, who avg. 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. Butler has accumulated 1,020 points and 832 rebounds in his Drexel career. Mate Okros, a 6-6 rising junior, and Xavier Bell, a 6-3 rising sophomore, should see expanded roles this season, and Monmouth transfer Melik Martin (12.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) has joined as a one-year grad transfer.
Chavis’ first Division I coaching job comes at the program that is down the street from where he grew up and he is hoping to be a pivotal reason why it returns to its former glory.