DeWitt Honored as NCAA Basketball Leader

Coach Mike DeWitt has built an impressive record for winning games, mentoring players, and developing coaches. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

He has won more basketball games than any coach in OWU history—and now his peers from across the nation have recognized him for doing so much more for his student-athletes, coaches, and the game they all love.

Mike DeWitt ’87 was recognized as a Guardian of the Game by the National Association of Basketball Coaches at its 2022 convention.

The association annually bestows Guardians of the Game awards emphasizing five core values: advocacy, leadership, service, education, and inclusion.

Doug Zipp, OWU director of athletics, says DeWitt embodies these attributes perfectly.

“Coach DeWitt’s passion and love for the game of basketball make him one of the best advocates, coaches, mentors of student-athletes, and professionals in the game today,” Zipp says. “OWU is fortunate to have an alum and coach who is so worthy to be named a Guardian of the Game.”

During his 23 seasons at OWU, DeWitt has compiled a record of 370–239 (.608), has won three North Coast Athletic Conference championships, two NCAC tournament titles, and made six NCAA Division III tournament appearances, including two trips to the Sweet 16. In 28 seasons as a head coach, he has a career mark of 420–315 (.571).

“Coach DeWitt has a quiet and effective style of leadership that through all his good work, dedication and passion make each student-athlete and the entire game better,” Zipp says. “His experience at Ohio Wesleyan as our coach is remarkable, as he has sustained success year in and year out. But, of even greater note, are the numerous years of service to NCAA men’s basketball and as the past chair of the NCAA DIII men’s basketball championships committee.”

DeWitt has served terms on the NCAA DIII Men’s Basketball Regional Advisory Committee and DIII Men’s Basketball Selection Committee. In the 2012-13 season, he was chair of the selection committee, leading the group’s oversight of the selection process and championship operations.

DeWitt was stunned by the recognition. “It was completely surprising and incredibly humbling when I was notified I was receiving this award from the NABC,” he says. “Receiving this from my peers in the coaching profession makes this recognition very meaningful, especially when you look at the coaches who have received this award in the past.”

The award may have surprised DeWitt, but those who he coached and coached with were not surprised in the least.

Coach DeWitt is a class act and is respected by the entire coaching fraternity.

Jon VanderWal

Head Men's Basketball Coach, Marietta College

Jon VanderWal, an OWU assistant coach from 2003–07 and now head coach at Marietta College, where he was named NCAA DIII Coach of the Year in 2015, says, “Coach DeWitt definitely exemplifies all the core values of the NABC and the Guardians of the Game award.”

“Coach DeWitt is a class act and is respected by the entire coaching fraternity,” VanderWal says. “He is one of the most likeable coaches and a friend to many people. He is extremely gracious and always seems to put others first. It’s what makes him special and also so deserving of the award. A lot of my success coaching is directly related to the time I spent with Coach DeWitt at OWU. He mentored me in many ways. Not only is he a great X & O’s coach, but he taught me how to be a true professional in every regard.”

Nate Conley was an OWU assistant coach from 2013–19, helping the Bishops win three consecutive NCAC championships. He is now head coach at Manchester University in Indiana.

Conley says, “Coach DeWitt would never admit this personally, but he’s more than deserving of this prestigious recognition.”

“A lot of what I do today as the head coach at Manchester, I’ve taken from him. His ability to connect with his players on and off the court always has been and always will be a big part of who he is in this profession.”

Conley adds, “He showed me you must be willing to adjust and change what you do from a style of play standpoint to fit what your personnel’s strengths are. Sometimes that’s season to season, and sometimes that’s game to game.

“I’ll always value my years in Delaware with him and the relationships we built with each other, our players, as well as campus and community members.”

As a player for DeWitt, Nate Axelrod ’18 won the Jostens Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding NCAA Division III men’s basketball player and received NCAA Division III Player of the Year laurels from D3hoops. com. He then coached two seasons at the collegiate level, including one under DeWitt, before going into private coaching.

Axelrod says, “Playing for and working with Coach DeWitt prepared me well for a coaching career. He really values his players’ input, which I think is a large reason for his success over the years.”

He adds, “I’ve learned plenty of things from Coach DeWitt over the years. One of the main lessons that stands out to me is the importance of having a program culture led by self-motivation. Especially at the Division III level, players must be self-motivated to achieve success on and off the court. This has been a large reason why OWU teams have been successful year after year.”

DeWitt and the Battling Bishops will begin the 2022-23 season Nov. 12 against Buffalo State in the JCU Tip-Off Tournament in University Heights, Ohio. The first home game will be Nov. 26 against Heidelberg.

Written by Mark Beckenbach ’81