New Charlotte boys basketball coach Matt VanAuken details his goals for the program

CHARLOTTE, Mich. (WLNS) – The last few seasons have been extremely memorable for the Charlotte Orioles, but a new era will be ushered in next winter.

Head coach Tom Fleming announced his retirement at the end of the 2023-24 season, which saw the Orioles win their second consecutive district championship. Fleming led Charlotte for four years. In addition to the pair of district titles, the Orioles also won the CAAC White in 2022-23, their first conference championship in 31 years.

Last week, the Orioles announced Matt VanAuken would be the man to replace Fleming.

VanAuken is a Charlotte alum who graduated in 2009. He’s been involved with the program for the last five years, spending one season as the freshmen coach, two as the JV coach, and the last two as Fleming’s assistant with the varsity team.

VanAuken said Fleming and his brother Rob Fleming taught him a lot of things he wants the program to continue to value going forward.

“The big things I learned from them, one of them is preparation,” said VanAuken. “We’re super prepared. We kind of hang our hat on that. I’d put us up against any program around here as far as our pregame preparation. The other things is just really getting the kids to understand what it takes to win. Every second of every game is really incredibly important and we practice that way as well. So when it comes down [to the wire], we’ve won a lot of close games over the last four years and I think the kids really started to pick up on that as far as what it takes to win.”

VanAuken added he hopes to establish a consistent summer program, bring back alumni to help teach and mentor the current roster, and work to strengthen the youth basketball programs in Charlotte.

The Orioles won the district championship on their home floor in March, and VanAuken pointed to that memorable district championship night as an example of the moments that can create momentum for a program across various age levels.

“There was probably 30-40 young kids that were out on the court [that night] and watched our Cutler Brandt and Maliki Garza and Ben Buzzard, amongst everyone else, get their medals and go pick up the trophy. They all just had huge smiles and that was really, really an awesome moment for me and I want to have that every year. I think that’s what gets the buy-in, is moments like that.”

The Charlotte program has long emphasized hard work, especially on the defensive end of the floor. VanAuken also values hard work but wants to build on that identity.

“I really want us to get our reputation to not only be hard workers and to play hard but also to play smart, you know? I think you can play really hard and work really hard and still come up short. I want to add to that. I want to be known for more than just being a team that’s gritty and tough and things like that, which that’s kind of been our identity the last few years. I want to add on that. I want to be more than a one-dimensional, defensive toughness-minded program and so that’s kind of what I hope we’re going to be known for going forward.”

VanAuken said he is thrilled for the opportunity to lead the program at his alma mater. He also wanted to thank this year’s senior class for their work in creating the success Charlotte has enjoyed recently, and for laying the foundation for what’s to come.

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