By Jon Evans | October 30, 2020 at 5:30 AM EDT – Updated November 5 at 8:13 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Takayo Siddle had just graduated from John M. Morehead High School in Eden, after a stellar prep basketball career playing for Coach John Harder. The 5′10″ guard averaged 27 points and six assists per game in his senior season, and wanted to continue his basketball career with the UNC Wilmington Seahawks.
“I was an undersized two-guard,” Siddle remembers about his situation in 2004. “I could score, but at the time UNCW was rollin’. They didn’t need my position.”
Siddle began to weigh his options, which included the prestigious Hargrave Military Academy. Hargrave’s Head Coach, Kevin Keatts, had recruited Siddle to play a post-graduate season at the Chatham, Virginia boarding school.
“I needed some structure, both in the classroom and on the court,” Siddle said about the importance of enrolling at the academy. “On the court, I needed to play better competition, and see where my game really was. Academically, I needed to get my test scores up and get more structure in that area. You wake up at 5:30, you march to breakfast. Before that, you make your bed. You march to breakfast, you march to lunch, you march to dinner. In between you’re going to classes and you have basketball workouts and practice. You have study hall at night from 7-9. It’s exactly what I needed.”
Although at the time, the 18-year-old from Eden did not realize it. Janet McCollum’s son did not have a lot of experience being away from home, and certainly not under the strict mandates of a military academy. Siddle remembers calling home every night the first week after he enrolled. Ms. McCollum’s response changed the course of her son’s future.
“The second week I was there I told her, ‘Mom, I don’t think this is for me. I’m ready to come home’,” Siddle says. “She hung up the phone. I called for two weeks straight after that and she never picked up the phone! By that time, I had gotten adjusted, and I was excited to be there, and I didn’t need to come home anymore. It was tough love, but I needed it at the time.”
The tough love worked. Siddle’s year playing for Keatts at Hargrave led to an opportunity to play at Gardner Webb University. Siddle played in 114 games in four years at the Big South school, including an upset of perennial powerhouse Kentucky in Rupp Arena in 2007. While working at a retail outlet following his senior year in 2009, Siddle decided to see if basketball could be his career path. He reached out to Hargrave Military Academy, and the man Siddle now calls his mentor, Kevin Keatts, picked up the phone.
“I said ‘coach, I need your help. I’m trying to figure out what my next move is. If you’ve got a position, I’d like to come and work for you’,” Siddle says. “He said, ‘Give me a couple days and I’ll call you back. I might have a spot on my staff’. That’s how it happened.”
That conversation helped start Takayo Siddle’s coaching career. “I always give praise to Kevin Keatts, who groomed me and gave me a lot of freedom and helped me get to this point.”
Siddle’s eight months working under Keatts at HMA eventually led to his first college coaching opportunity. Chris Holtman, who was an assistant coach at Gardner Webb when Siddle played for the Bulldogs, became the head coach in 2010 and hired Siddle to be an assistant. After four seasons with his alma mater, Siddle once again joined Keatts’ staff when he became the head coach at UNCW. Their Seahawk teams quicky saw success, winning three consecutive CAA championships and earning back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Keatts left Wilmington in 2017 for the head coaching job at North Carolina State, and UNCW Athletic Director Jimmy Bass named Siddle the Interim Head Coach of the men’s basketball program. When it came time to announce the new permanent head coach, Siddle did not get the job. He followed Keatts and became an assistant with the Wolfpack.
“There was no anger, no ill-will,” Siddle said when asked his reaction to not being elevated from interim to permanent head coach. “I felt professionally it was important for me to go to Raleigh, get that experience at a high major and get another few years under my belt. I felt I was ready at the time (in 2017). But, after waiting three years, looking back on it, maybe I wasn’t quite as ready as I needed to be. When I took the job in March (of 2020), I knew I was ready then.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic had started to impact the university when Siddle was hired on March 13, he may not have known at the time how invasive the protocol would be for keeping his players virus-free and able to stay on the court.
Right now, the players and staff are tested once a week for COVID-19. That will change on November 10, when the testing increases to three times per week. Siddle says he has stressed to his players the importance of doing what is necessary to keep the program virus-free.
“We all have to make sacrifices, and that’s what we’ve been talking about with them a lot with COVID going on,” the 34-year-old head coach says. “Our biggest thing with our guys so far has been ‘I know you want to be a normal college student right now and go out and interact and have a social life. But it’s different now. You’re going to have a make a sacrifice. You can do the same things you would do under normal circumstances’. So far, we’ve been doing a really good job of it, just trying to mentor them and show them the bigger picture.”
My interview with Coach Siddle covered many other aspects of his journey to becoming a first-time head coach, including his relationship with Coach Kevin Keatts and the impact Coach John Harder had on his career. We also discussed the current state of race relations in the country, and the conversations he’s had with his players who want to make their voices heard. I hope you enjoy getting to know the leader of the UNCW Men’s Basketball program as much as I did.
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