Augustana University’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach, two-time national coach of the year and a national champion, Tom Billeter has left his mark in Sioux Falls.
Like a tune from Johnny Cash, Billeter in his 32 years of coaching has been to Tucson, Houston, Fargo, New York, College Station and Istanbul.
“I’ve been a lot of places,” Billeter said. “The bigger schools, you’re kind of with your team and a couple other athletes, but here, you’re with everybody, and that’s what I love. That’s how it should be.”
The relationships that he has built with his players last for years after the hardwood. He’s hugged his players at their weddings, sent them tags when they have children and remains a reference for them forever.
After their Sweet 16 loss this season, Billeter was asked if he even wanted to do the post-game interview with a player or do it on his own. He responded by bringing all seven of his leaving seniors into the room to be together.
“I said let’s grab all those guys,” Billeter said. “They all deserve to be there. That whole group, they’re all special, and they need to be in that press conference.”
During the press conference, Billeter spoke about every single player sitting at the table. He said how they have contributed to the team, the program and the season that led to an NSIC regular season championship and a Sweet 16 run that was ended by the reigning, and now back-to-back, national champions.
“With all the guys you love in that room, it didn’t seem real,” senior Adam Dykman said. “I honestly felt really thankful in the moment.”
Dykman, an All-NSIC First Team member, transferred to Augustana in 2017 after two years at South Dakota State University. During the press conference, he spoke about how Billeter trusted in him and made him a better player every year.
“Coach B is someone that always has your back,” Dykman said. “He listens to you and is very passionate about the game of basketball and how you are doing off the court. He has truly made me a better man. He just keeps it real and tells you how it is, and that is my favorite part about him.”
After the best season the Vikings have had since their 2016 national championship, Billeter was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches District Coach of the Year.
“It really is a reflection of your staff and your training,” Billeter said. “You know who gets forgotten is [athletic trainer] Jason Rinne. I mean what has Jason had to go through these past few years with COVID and everything he has to do to get guys vaccinated and keep records. Our training staff has been phenomenal, and then you know [strength and conditioning coordinator Brett Chambers], our support staff and our administration. It’s a reflection of your organization.”
That type of answer is typical from Billeter; he makes sure credit is given where credit is due. He often stopped to make sure he acknowledged the work that was done by his assistant coaches and how they help him with everything he does on or off the court.
“I meet with my coaches, then I assign my coaches players just for outside of basketball,” Billeter said. “Each assistant coach has three to four players, and they’re responsible for anything, whether they can grab them and say ‘Hey, let’s go grab some lunch at Qdoba,’ to academics. It can be anything but basketball.”
Billeter talked about how the freshman year of college is the hardest for most guys, so he emphasizes an open door policy to make sure that the players can come in and talk whenever they need. This first step is what he thinks creates chemistry between the coaches and players and builds the relationships that he holds after the game.
“It’s important to us what they do after in life way more than if we win or lose,” Billeter said. “I want them to be great dads and husbands. I want them to have great success in their fields, but I also want them to be successful in the community, and we talk about that. Augie’s a good place to do that.”
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