MSU club basketball coach teaches valuable lessons beyond hoops

Mar 15, 2016

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Sean Hankins loves basketball. But it’s what he’s able to teach through basketball that he loves even more.

Teaching is at his core, as he is a psychology instructor and supervisor in the Michigan State’s social work department.

His move into coaching Michigan State’s new club basketball team came when Robert Ray Jr., a first-year medical student at MSU, approached Hankins.

“When Rob came to me with the opportunity to coach and mentor, it was a done deal, it was a no-brainer,” Hankins said.

Hankins had spent time playing pick-up ball with Ray Jr. and many of the men on the club team prior to its existence, and was able to gauge the type of players and people they were.

But the latter was what drew Hankins in.

“I think first and foremost, they have some of the most highly respected characters out there,” Hankins said. “Of course their talent and skills, but their character was great. And to be able to offer some kind of support or some kind of wisdom to help build upon that was an opportunity that I looked forward to and wanted to be a part of.”

Hankins is also in the midst of his second season as an assistant coach at Lansing Eastern High School, so adding a third job to his already-tight schedule – on top of being a husband and father – wasn’t easy. But with the support of his family, he made coaching the Spartans club team another priority.

And he did so for free.

“The reward is to see the growth in young men, preparing them for their futures,” Hankins said. “So although in practice we’re going over plays, getting in shape and being disciplined, a lot of communication is about preparing yourself for your future. For me, that’s more than enough compensation, to see their growth.”

Hankins, an MSU graduate, has always valued mentorship, and he especially values those who have served as beacons to him. It was William Davidson, a distinguished professor in psychology department at MSU, who taught Hankins “each one has to teach one.”

“(Davidson) taught me to not see the world through binoculars, but through a kaleidoscope to create win-win moments,” Hankins said. “And that’s something that, between him and my wife, have definitely taught me how to be able to view the world through that lens. Those two have been very pivotal in my growth andunderstanding mentorship, and I love passing it down.”

Ray Jr. says he and his teammates have enjoyed being on the receiving end of Hankins’ leadership.

“Sean has served as a basketball mentor to me since I came to Michigan State, he’s made me a better player individually and he has an immense knowledge of the game,” Ray Jr. said. “He’s well respected by everyone on our team, everyone on our team respects his coaching and his values as a coach and as a person, which makes it very easy for us to get behind him and what he has to say.”

On the hardwood

Hankins’ philosophy is obvious in the way the Spartans play. All 11 guys share the ball like the Golden State Warriors, they defend like the San Antonio Spurs, and they have the heart of, well, the Michigan State Spartans.

“We’re not the MSU basketball team, but we try to mimic a lot of their characteristics and represent their way of play,” Hankins said. “That’s something we want to be known for.”

And the work ethic Hankins has instilled in them, carries over during their weekly 6:30 a.m. practices. It’s the reason the Spartans are 15-2 (13-2 in the Great Lakes North Conference) this season.

“We are a tough-nosed, defensive-minded team first,” Hankins said. “We will defend and we will rebound. That’s our mantra, that’s our focus, and our practice is pretty much dominated by rebounding and defending.”

Hankins describes his team as a bunch of “blue-collar, high-IQ” guys, who have the mentality of “You’ve got to beat me, because I’m not got to let you take it.”

That mindset circles back to Hankins’ passion: teaching through basketball.

“Mentorship is just something I believe in, and I believe that’s how we grow as a community,” Hankins said. “Spartans will. It takes each one to teach one.”