Matt Wilber got the call Thursday morning that his life was about to change.
After seven years of helping to run the TIBBS Basketball Academy in Sioux Falls, he was heading back to college basketball, this time as head men’s coach at Dakota Wesleyan.
It will be the first head coaching job for the 35-year-old Augustana alum, who beat out O’Gorman boys coach Derek Robey, former DWU assistant Josh Mueller and current Northern State assistant Matt Sevareid for the job, which came open when Shane Murphy resigned last month.
Wilber had assistant coaching stints at Augustana, the University of Sioux Falls and South Dakota State before teaming with Nate Tibbetts to form the TIBBS Basketball Academy, which was recently purchased by Sanford Health.
“I’ve had a great experience with the academy, but my real passion has always been at the college level,” said Wilber, a Miller native who graduated from Dell Rapids High School in 1997.
“I look at this as a great opportunity for myself and my family, and I’m excited and humbled to be a part of it.”
DWU’s search for a coach to revive its program was noteworthy because of the names involved. Robey and Sevareid are both Mitchell natives, and Robey has guided O’Gorman to five state titles in his eight years at the helm.
Mueller, who served as Murphy’s assistant with the Tigers from 2010-12, is a former University of South Dakota standout and one of the more recognizable names in recent state basketball history.
But during interviews with DWU athletic director Curt Hart earlier this week, Wilber emerged as the candidate who could use college experience and local connections to lure talent back to Mitchell.
“It might have been more of a sure thing with Robey and Sevareid,” said Hart. “But I felt like we had a great connection with Matt and a strong sense of what he can bring to our program.”
In addition to working with upcoming young players for a living, Wilber comes from a family with a strong athletic background. His father, Jim, has been active in amateur baseball (previously as Matt’s coach) and his uncle, Bob, coached Roosevelt boys basketball from 1996-2009.
He also received a glowing reference from SDSU head coach Scott Nagy, who valued Wilber’s contributions to the Jackrabbit program during a tough transitional stretch from 2004-06.
“Matt is seen as a high-energy guy and a workhorse,” said Hart. “I think he will hit the ground running.”
Indeed, Wilber was already in Mitchell meeting with coaches and players Thursday, and he plans to hit the road to start recruiting this weekend. He eagerly awaits the challenge of getting the Tigers back in the mix in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
After racking up five consecutive 24-win seasons (including a 16-2 league record and GPAC title under John Hemenway in 2009-10), DWU has gone 15-15 and 14-17 the past two seasons under Murphy.
Though Wilber sees the GPAC as a premier NAIA conference (despite the recent exit of USF), he doesn’t envision the Corn Palace-based program at DWU to be a major rebuilding effort.
“It’s a school with a rich tradition that has had big-time recent success, and that’s what attracted me to the job,” said Wilber, who becomes the 19th men’s basketball coach in school history, following such names as Gordie Fosness and Doug Martin.
“You’re talking about a league with great competition and rivalries, and I’m looking forward to being part of that. I’m sure our (returning) players expect that they’re going to competitive right away, and I’m not going to come with anything less than that.”
Wilber has exceeded expectations before, arriving on the Augustana campus as a basketball walk-on under Perry Ford but earning a scholarship and ultimately finishing in the school’s top 10 for 3-point shooting. He was also a four-year starter for the baseball team.
His wife, Lindsay (Voss), was a three-time all-North Central Conference volleyball standout at Augustana, and they have four sons – twins Benjamin and AJ (7), Nathan (5) and Tyson (four months).
For folks in Mitchell, getting Wilber’s kids into the school system could be an interesting element of this hire.
“(My family) wants to become a part of the Mitchell community right away,” said the new coach. “We want our kids in the Mitchell school district next year, and we want our kids to grow up and be Mitchell Kernels.”