Men’s basketball head coach Mike DeWitt (left) with new assistant coach Nate Axelrod.

DeWitt coaches the players and the coaches

When former Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball standout Nate Axelrod ’18 returned to OWU to become the Battling Bishops’ assistant men’s basketball coach under head coach Mike DeWitt ’87, it was perhaps the best career move he could have made.

DeWitt’s previous assistant, Nate Conley, was named the head coach at Manchester (Ind.) University in October, becoming the sixth of DeWitt’s former assistant coaches to go on to a head coaching position. Four others are current head coaches — Scott Cooper at Indiana University-South Bend, Scott Cutter at Defiance College, John Ellenwood at Ashland University, and Jon VanderWal at Marietta College.

“I think our assistant coaches are attractive to other schools for a variety of reasons, and I believe that one of my responsibilities as a head coach is to mentor and prepare them for advancing their careers,” says DeWitt.

He explains that OWU assistants are given responsibilities in every aspect of the program in order to prepare them to become head coaches.

It’s not only DeWitt’s former assistants who are progressing to the coaching ranks. DeWitt also has two former players who are head coaches, Travis Schwab ’04 at Muskingum University and Andy Winters ’13 at Otterbein University, and two who are assistant coaches, Rob Gardiner ’10 at Ashland University and Seth Clark ’18 at Wabash College.

National Division III player of the year in 2017-18, Axelrod began his coaching career at Oberlin College last season, then accepted a position on Winters’ staff at Otterbein. When the Ohio Wesleyan position opened, he jumped at the chance like it was a loose ball on the court.

“This school is a really special place to me, and I’m grateful that I get to contribute to the basketball program and campus community, especially after going to school here,” says Axelrod. “I feel great working for Coach DeWitt because we had a great relationship when I played for him and I have a ton of respect for his success. He has built an incredible culture here.”

Axelrod is eager to learn from DeWitt, whom he said was a very supportive mentor throughout his playing career.

Axelrod’s favorite aspect of coaching is that it doesn’t feel like a typical job with the fast-paced work environment. “I am surrounded by a great group of guys on our team, and they make it a fun environment to be in,” he says.

DeWitt is excited to have Axelrod join the men’s basketball staff. “Nate had one of the best playing careers in OWU men’s basketball history, and to provide him the opportunity to return to his alma mater is very rewarding,” he says. “He has exemplified what we want our program to represent in terms of success on and off the court as a player.”

Axelrod capped his Battling Bishop career by winning the Jostens Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding NCAA Division III men’s basketball player and receiving NCAA Division III Player of the Year laurels from D3hoops.comz. He was a three-time All-America selection by both the National Association of Basketball Coaches and, a two-time Academic All-America® choice, and North Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year for three years in a row, making him the first men’s basketball player in conference history to be so honored.

Axelrod also was a four-time, first-team All-NCAC selection, only the third men’s basketball player in conference history to accomplish that feat, and was named NCAC Newcomer of the Year in 2015. During his senior year, he led the NCAC in assists and in scoring with 19.2 points per game, becoming the first player in conference history to lead the league in scoring and assists in a single season. Axelrod finished his career as the second Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball player and the fourth in NCAC history to surpass the 2,000-point mark. He also is Ohio Wesleyan’s all-time leader in assists with 655 and consecutive games started with 114.

By Caitlin Jefferson ’22

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