We have heard many a coach or athlete, an administrator or a fan, espouse their passion regarding a particular sport.
Few, however, have better captured the essence of what exactly constitutes a passion than local basketball mentor and former Laurentian star Brad Hann.
“When I get into practices, the basketball and the practice is all that I think about,” suggested the 49 year old father of two. “My mind doesn’t go anywhere else for that hour and a half or two hours that I have with these boys. Everything else that is outside of the gym, it’s not even there.”
“It’s always been that way for me, as a player and as a coach,” Hann continued. “It gives me a singular focus - I’m lucky to have that.”
The sport of basketball and the Hann family name have long been synonymous in these parts. Joining Brad as proud Voyageur alumni are siblings Norm and Stacey, while Shannon (youngest child) would compete primarily with the Brock Badgers following one season in Brandon.
Their father, Jim, was enshrined in the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame largely on the incredible resume that he assembled as a high-school coach with the Lasalle Lancers. Still, it would be foolish to think that life was basketball and nothing else for this clan.
Grandpa Norm Hann could boast professional level baseball talent, while Jim added varsity football to his time with the Waterloo Warriors’ basketball during his university days. Even Brad suggested that for him and his brother, it was hockey first, at least until high-school, along with a steady summer dose of tennis on the homefront.
“We played a lot of tennis in Coniston; that was a huge sport for myself,” said Brad. “We played in preparation for one little Coniston Open tournament that took place in August.”
But it was dad’s involvement with the game of James Naismith that eventually captured the fascination of that particular generation of Hann kids. “Dad would drag Norm and I around to whatever practices or tryouts that he was hosting at the time,” recalled Brad. “He would throw us into the mix with what seemed like much older guys with hair on their legs.”
“We may not have always liked it, but it served us well as we got ready for bigger, faster and better competition.”
If there was a kindred spirit to the basketball approach that was embedded in their father, it came in the form of Laurentian University coach Peter Campbell. “It was just a natural fit for us at Laurentian,” said Hann. “With Norm being there (1988-1993), I had the opportunity to go play with my brother (1990-1995), and to have the success that we had was a real positive experience in my life, for sure.”
Brad Hann would make three appearances at nationals, two alongside his older brother.
“I look back on those teams as not having the best talent, but coach (Campbell) always managed to get the most out of his players,” said Hann. “We really maximized our potential. It created a culture that helped lead to the success that Ted (Dongelmans) and Cory Bailey and Shawn Swords would have.”
Ironically, for as much as Brad Hann was known for his basketball IQ on the court, the notion of coaching was hardly a foregone conclusion. “I never considered it during my playing days,” he said. “I guess I never thought about the future that far in advance.”
In fact, even as he moved to Kingston to pursue postgraduate studies, there remained an understandable reluctance. “The coach at Queen’s approached me, but it was my first year after playing and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I still had so much passion for Laurentian basketball, I was so loyal to Laurentian, it almost felt like I would have been a traitor.”
Twelve months later, that feeling had subsided. Hann would spend three years as an assistant coach with the Gaels, another season in the same role with the University of Northern British Columbia during a short stint out west, and finally four years back in town, working alongside Virgil Hill at Laurentian.
His first head coaching experience would come courtesy of the Cambrian College Golden Shield, working at the same institution where his Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) and graduate degrees in microbiology and immunology would lead to a career in teaching. From 2006 to 2012, Hann would lead the Shield to results that would vastly outshine any other era of Cambrian basketball, especially relative to the competition that they faced.
It was a time that sculpted the initial rendition of Brad Hann - the coach.
“The way you have been coached, combining that with your own personality, what you bring to the game on an individual level, that sort of defines you as a coach,” he explained. “The values that were drilled into you as a player: hard work, intensity, the commitment to practices, to games, to get better - the things that were important allowed me to bring a level of success to the Cambrian program.”
Folks could be forgiven, at that time, if they could see the teachings of Jim Hann in the coaching persona of his son. “I am quite a bit different now than my dad, but when I was coaching at Cambrian, I was probably quite similar,” said Brad.
“Practices were intense. There were expectations that you had to meet and there were consequences for not meeting those expectations, for not playing in a certain way.”
A couple of years removed from his time with the Golden Shield, Hann re-emerged, this time as part of a Sudbury Jam coaching tandem with Chris Binks, looping back to work with a group of eight and nine year old boys.
And while some might suggest that it is the age of the athletes that has most prompted some movement in the coaching methodology that he utilizes, Hann fervently disagrees, noting that he would remain steadfast in his current approach, even were he to tackle a post-secondary roster again.
“I think it’s a matter of understanding how to achieve success today,” he said. “You really need to have relationships with your players that are positive and supportive and will motivate them to get better individually, such that they see success for themselves, but they also see success developing as a team.”
“I don’t think it’s necessarily society or the kids these days,” Hann continued. “This is the way that I have found that I can reach the kids so that I coach and allow them to still continue to love the game, but that they also will work a little harder, get a little better at their game.”
It’s a mindset that consumes Hann, in a very good way, each and every time that he steps on the court with his now grade nine crew.
“Nothing else really seems to matter except for the kids that I am coaching and the game,” he said. “And it’s really quite wonderful.”
And it’s most definitely his passion.