By Rich Fisher
Kevin DeMille didn’t know what he was looking for until he found it. Now that he’s got it, he realized it may be what he wanted all along.
On June 8, the 26-year-old Bordentown native was promoted from assistant director of operations to assistant coach for the George Washington University women’s basketball team.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true, but it’s so funny, I never really announced it as a dream,” DeMille said. “I’ve just always kind of felt growing up around my mother and my father, that this was going to be something that would be in my life for a long time, but I wasn’t really sure in what capacity. But I don’t know if I ever actually thought it or expressed those [coaching] thoughts.”
GW second-year head coach Jen Rizzotti, who played for Geno Auriemma’s first national champion team at the University of Connecticut, made her decision based on a relationship she built with DeMille over the past three years.
“Kevin’s whole life has been about women’s basketball,” Rizzotti said in a statement. “He grew up watching his mom coach one of the best high school girls’ basketball programs in New Jersey. He respects our game more than most young people I know. His loyalty to me is fortunately matched by a drive to succeed and impact the lives of our young women in the most positive way possible.”
DeMille played CYO ball under his dad, Lou, for St. Mary’s of Bordentown and was also a standout for McFarland Middle School before playing at Notre Dame High School. He grew up watching is mom, Ann, coach some outstanding Notre Dame girls’ teams before stepping down at the start of this decade and turning to officiating. He also watched Lou coach AAU girls’ basketball.
DeMille turned down chances to play lower level college basketball to attend the University of Connecticut, where he served as student manager of operations and played on the male practice team that went against Auriemma’s national powerhouse squads. After one semester as a graduate assistant he was hired as the Assistant Director of Operations and played a key role behind the scenes on five national championship teams and seven Final Four squads.
In 2014, Auriemma asked Rizzotti, who was head coach of University of Hartford at the time, to serve as an assistant and advance scout for the national team at the FIBA World Championship. He asked DeMille to do the video editing and some scouting, as well, and the Jen-Kev friendship was born. They were also on staff when America won the gold medal at the 2016 Olympics.
When Rizzotti took over at GW last year she immediately hired DeMille as her assistant director of operations.
“She and I got lucky that we met each other…at least, I think she was lucky,” DeMille said with a laugh.
Rizzotti did not argue.
“I’m truly lucky that our paths crossed during our time as support staff for the 2016 Olympic team,” she said. “I look forward to seeing what he can help us accomplish.”
DeMille was content to stay at Connecticut for as long as he needed. He learned the importance of loyalty at UConn, especially watching Chris Dailey, who has remained as Auriemma’s assistant/associate head coach for 31 years.
“I loved what I did there and I was there for a long time doing it,” he said. “It was just right. When Jennifer offered me this opportunity, it also felt right. She has been so influential in my growth in this profession, that right now I can’t think about not working with her. If she wants me to stay for 30 years I would stay for 30 years. If she wants me to do what I am doing now and then move on with whatever’s next, I would do that.”
DeMille is the true definition of a gym rat. He spent countless hours watching his mom produce state power teams at Notre Dame. He remembered one player, who went on to Princeton, giving him a pair of sneakers. He recalls he and his brothers, as middle school players, scrimmaging a varsity team with Rutgers-bound Michelle Campbell, considered to be the best player Ann ever had.
“I had just a tremendous respect for the women who played for her,” DeMille said. “They were a big reason why I do what I do. When I got this job, I texted my mom about her players and said, ‘If it wasn’t for these guys…’ There must have been 30 or 40 I mentioned.”
Ann agreed with her son that coaching was never something “on Kevin’s radar until recently.”
“As a senior in high school, when he realized he wanted to go to a big, diverse university with athletic success, he decided on UConn, which meant he wouldn’t have an opportunity to continue to play competitively, but he wanted to stay involved with the game,” Ann said. “There’s no better program than UConn women’s basketball or a better coach than Geno to embrace a supporting role and enhance the college experience. So, he went to the women’s basketball office, met with (assistant) Shea Ralph, and asked for an opportunity. The more involved he became and the more responsibilities he assumed, he began to realize that coaching may be in his future.”
DeMille’s actual playing career got off to a rocky start when he played up a level on Lou’s CYO team in fourth-grade in order to play with his brother. He called it “the worst experience of my basketball career,” but improved to become the team’s best player by 8th grade.
“My dad had I have a very special basketball relationship,” DeMille said. “I’m the most comfortable, even now as a professional, when my dad is in the stands, because I was with him all the time. He always watched me practice. My mom never watched me practice so in high school, I felt so nervous when my mom was watching me play because I respected her so much and I got a chance to watch her teams play. She never saw my preparation, she just saw my performances.”
His performances were just fine. An all-around athlete, DeMille also played soccer and baseball but it was basketball that made his blood rush. As he grew in the game, so too did his court sense.
“During his CYO, recreation league and middle school years, he was primarily a system player,” Ann said. “He was executing plays, knocking down shots, and doing whatever his coaches asked of him. By high school, I saw him beginning to recognize and apply strategy, time and score situations, and the importance of individual and team efficiency. At that point, we would analyze and critique both his games and mine, watch many games on television, etc.”
The result has him in Washington, D.C. with a coach he respects as a person and player as much as anyone. Well, except for his mom, “who was my role model through this whole thing.”
DeMille said that from Auriemma, he took the mindset of competitiveness and attention to detail. He noted that the coach instilled in him the desire to be perfect, with the realization that if he does that he will at least reach excellence.
And in Rizzotti he has, “my best friend and a mentor, and the best boss and colleague that I can ask for.”
His role with the Colonials, a perennial NCAA Tournament team, will be a variety of things, ranging from operations, to preparing and editing scouting reports and recruiting. Mom feels he is ready.
“His experiences at Connecticut, in their culture of accountability, efficiency and attention to detail will serve him well,” Ann said. “I’m excited to see how he applies all that he has learned about player development and team success. And Coach Rizzotti brings out the best in him, particularly his enthusiasm and work ethic.”
She also provided him with his first opportunity at a job he never knew he wanted, until she gave it to him.