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COLUMN: From the floor to the bench, Angelini embraces leadership role

SCRANTON — Unofficially, Hannah Angelini's coaching career began when she was still a basketball player.

It started when it so often does for high school and college stars: During the offseason, at summer camps, teaching the youth of their hometowns both actual and adopted the ins and outs of the sports they love. But for her, it always went beyond showing someone trying out for her junior high team the intricacies of a better crossover dribble, or pointing out to a high school junior how his defensive posture can improve.

Growth in a youngster is more satisfying to watch than the mastering of a skill, she found.

Remember that. Remember it not only when she says why she is taking the next step in her basketball career as a coach, but where she wanted to do it most.

"A big X-factor in life is people," Angelini said. "One of the rules you can live by is knowing you've helped a person in any way you can."

For the last handful of years at the John Long Center, Angelini was like a coach on the floor for the University of Scranton Lady Royals basketball team.

Smart. Basketball savvy. A two-time captain who made her reputation as a no-nonsense, clutch performer through 109 career games in the program and 77 starts in the rough-and-tumble Landmark Conference during a playing career that ended in March.

So with all of that in the background, it makes total sense that — when the Lady Royals open a promising 2024-25 season come November — Angelini will be a coach on the bench.

Looking to fill a vacancy on the assistant coaching staff, head coach Ben O'Brien officially hired Angelini on May 23 for plenty of those obvious reasons. If you're looking for an assistant who knows your system, who knows your style, who knows your program inside and out, who knows the university, Angelini checks every box.

Maybe better than anybody.

She also knows the players. Definitely, better than anybody. Which, in the coaching world, isn't always a benefit.

The Lady Royals return four players who started 25 games or more last season, and a slew of others who played more than a couple seasons with Angelini as a stalwart. They treated her like the proverbial coach on the floor.

But, they are also among her best friends.

They've been through difficult losses, together. They rallied for big wins, together.

They've trained and practiced and ate, together. They've lived similar lives, with identical goals and in pursuit of the same dreams.

But this season, while the dreams and goals are the same, the roles are a bit different. The coach-player relationship is different from the teammate-to-teammate bond forged through all of those years on the way to Landmark championships and NCAA Division III tournament bids.

Angelini admits thoughts of how to make that work crossed her mind when she sought the coaching position alongside O'Brien. But, she determined after that thought that the goal is not to change that completely, to delve into the power of the coaching role.

It's to embrace what coaching is.

"What I've thought the most is, it definitely takes a mutual respect between both of us to find that balance," Angelini said. "Obviously, those are a lot of my best friends. I don't want that to change. And it's not going to change, because you can't take away what I've done with those people for the last three, four, five years.

"When you are in those battles with those people, you develop real tight, close-knit relationships and bonds that are really hard to break. Something like taking an opportunity to be their assistant coach is not going to break those bonds. And yet, they probably will have to continue in probably a little bit of a different manner next season. It kind of gave me a bit of an advantage in this type of role, because I know these people very well, and I will do everything that I can to still support them and be there for them, to help them."

In the end, Angelini is still a student at the university, with one more year to go on her way toward an MBA in operations management. She couldn't imagine being on that campus and not being part of the program that means so much to her.

But it's just as difficult to look back on her career there and not think of all the people who helped her. Coaches and teammates, sure. But also professors and administrators. She said she never felt as though someone with her best interests at heart wasn't close by.

In the end, more than winning and losing and championships and getting to stay around a game that has been with her since childhood, that's the feeling Hannah Angelini says she wants her teammates to continue to have as they pursue their basketball goals.

"It exceeded my expectations, because the young woman I've turned into is far better than I think I could have turned out at any other place," she said. "That's a testament to the people I've been surrounded by in my five years here.

"I was just amazed at how genuine people were, and how they wanted everyone here to be the best versions of themselves. I am going to do everything in my power to help them do that."