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Just like his dad

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

In the days before Maryland emerged as an NCAA basketball tournament regular, assistant coach Billy Hahn hauled game tape from his Cole Field House office to his home to view at night.

His son Matt often joined him and absorbed terminology, learned to diagram plays and developed an understanding for the sport. There was shared time at offseason basketball camps, and Matt eventually walked on at Maryland while his dad was still on coach Gary Williams' staff.

So it was little surprise when Matt Hahn followed his dad into coaching, a decision that has brought both joy and frustration. The choice also will lead Hahn back to College Park this week as an assistant at Vermont, which opens its season tomorrow against New Orleans at Comcast Center in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

"It wasn't so much wanting to be coach as much as it was to be like Dad," said Hahn, who is in his second year on former Catholic coach and Maryland assistant Mike Lonergan's staff. "Everybody knew Dad. Everybody respected Dad."

Hahn was teammates with Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, Steve Francis and other future pros at Maryland and appeared in 43 games. After a year working for a now-defunct basketball Web site, Hahn broke into coaching when his father took over at La Salle in the spring of 2001.

He was promoted to a full-time assistant two years later before rape accusations against two La Salle players led to his dad's dismissal. Although the players were later acquitted, Billy Hahn has not secured an assistant coaching job in the two years since his firing.

It wasn't an easy time for Matt, either. He spent some of his time bartending, slipping out in the early evening to attend high school games in the Philadelphia area to stay connected to the game.

"All I did was watch high school games and try to figure out what I was going to do," Hahn said. "It was all right. It made you appreciate coaching and having that opportunity."

He jumped back into the business when Lonergan took over at Vermont last year. Hahn was an appealing possibility for Lonergan's staff; he was young, had run the flex offense and countless other schemes during practice at Maryland and understood the demands of the profession.

Hahn also possessed the immense credibility of knowing how players maximized their talent and moved on to the pros.

"They all think 'Hey, he played with Juan Dixon as an ACC player and look what he's done,' " Lonergan said. "He's actually a lot more outgoing than he was as a kid. He's almost a mini-Billy in some ways. That's just being so close to his dad. He's even slicking his hair back sometimes. He's good. He can be at a player's level and tell jokes, but he also has their respect."

Hahn also earned Lonergan's respect for his ability to identify talent, a vital skill for an assistant.

His discerning eye first developed from watching summer camps as a teenager and continued to blossom once he became a coach.

"He had a real good knack for that," said Billy Hahn, who now works for the New Jersey-based Hoop Group.

"Everybody can pick out LeBron James or a guy that's the best player on the floor. There's something to be said for the guy who can pick out a player who, three or four years later, that guy is a heck of a player and people say, 'Where did that kid come from?' "

That's another trait Matt shares with his father, who was a critical part of Maryland's recruiting throughout the 1990s. Yet there is one striking difference between the two -- their demeanor on the sideline.

"I'm not quite so maniacal -- not that he was, but he worked for Gary for a long time, so you get a little bit of that in you," Matt Hahn said. "I try to be a little more reserved on the bench. Probably the reason is I've been to the absolute low place and been to some high points in the business. I've only been coaching five years and already experienced that. ... "I'm very lucky to have a job. Every time I'm down, I think that I've got one of 1,200 assistant coaching jobs in the country."