By Chris Roberts
Though the Lakeland Rustlers men’s basketball team lost at home to the Grant MacEwan Griffins on Friday, Nov. 23, it felt like a win for many in attendance.
That’s because Eric Magdanz, the first-year head coach of the Griffins, had his own cheering section for the night.
“I had my parents and a lot of family and friends out, and actually a bunch of my former high-school teammates were out cheering me on, so it was a pretty fun atmosphere,” said Magdanz, who was born and raised in Lloydminster.
That game marked Magdanz’s first time back in Lloyd for the purpose of basketball – he still returns to visit his parents – since he graduated from Lloyd Comp just over seven years ago.
After starring for the Lloyd Comp basketball team, Magdanz went on to play for McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. Unfortunately, he was never able to really find his rhythm through four years at the university, due to a number of injuries – it was his third concussion that eventually supplanted him to the bench.
Though, it was then that he discovered that he was better suited to the bench – or at least behind it.
“Coaching was just a bit of a natural transition for me,” he began. “Unfortunately I had a couple injuries, which led me into being more of a player-coach, because I wasn’t able to play very much when I was at McMaster. I had to go back and finish one semester of school at McMaster and I was given the opportunity at that time to come and sort of assume an assistant coach’s role.”
From there, it’s been somewhat of a roller coaster ride for Magdanz. He moved to Edmonton the following year where he happened to run into Greg Francis, who had been named head coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears. That meeting parlayed into a job for Magdanz as Francis’ assistant coach.
“While I was playing at McMaster, Greg was running a Canada Basketball program called National Elite Development Academy, and that was actually being run out of McMaster. So just as a strange coincidence he and I ended up in the same city again so I gave him a call and it just worked out,” said Magdanz.
Last year, Magdanz gained invaluable experience as the Golden Bears reached the CIS national championship game, coming up short against No. 1 ranked Carleton Ravens. Nonetheless, the experience prompted him to put his name in for the vacant head coach position at Grant MacEwan.
“I felt prepared but I felt nervous too,” he said. “It’s a new opportunity, it’s a big opportunity for me to be a head coach at my age, I definitely had some nerves, but it feels pretty natural, so I’m really excited to be here as well.”
At just 25, Magdanz is only a few years older than the majority of his players, but he certainly isn’t in over his head; in fact, the former Comp star feels his age has helped him out in his first year as a head coach.
“I think it helps me relate with my athletes a little better, I’m currently still going through the post-secondary academic calendar,” explained Magdanz, who is finishing his masters in athlete health and coaching at the University of Alberta.
“So I understand the rigours of exams and going to class and all the stress that that puts on student athletes, so I think that helps me connect with them a little bit more,”
Through the first semester, Magdanz’s Griffins are fourth place in the North Division at 4-5, but he feels they’re poised for a strong second half.
“I’m pretty pleased with our first semester, I don’t think our record does justice for the growth that we’ve experienced,” he explained, adding that three of the team’s losses have come against top-10 ranked teams in Canada.
The return to Lloyd last month marked just the eighth game of his head coaching career, and ironically enough, he was coaching against Tom Groat, his coach while at Lloyd Comp.
“I was very fortunate to be coached by him from a young age,” sadi Magdanz of Groat.
“He taught me a lot of the intricacies and the technical aspects, especially for defence, and that’s really what allowed me to succeed as a basketball player, I wasn’t the most athletic player, so being very technical allowed me to play at a higher level than I should have.”
And though he didn’t get to take full advantage of that opportunity on the court, he has certainly parlayed it into some success on the sidelines.