My first season in Starkville wasn't the best as we finished 14-17, but I'll always remember the first time I came out of that tunnel at Humphrey Coliseum.

The arena was packed with nearly 10,000 fans to see our team, and probably to see how I would fair in my first game. I never doubted myself as a coach, even after getting let go at UCLA, but it sure felt nice to be back on the court again. We pulled out a win over Eastern Washington that night, and even though the year saw more losses than wins, I knew that this would take time to build it up.

Fortunately, God gave us patience to handle the wait.

Our next year we finished 16-16 to finish at .500. Then, we went 25-12 in 2017-18, going to the NIT Final Four in New York City. Last season, we returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a decade at Mississippi State. We were a 5 seed, and even though we finished the season on a difficult note with the loss to Liberty, I like where our program is headed.

I also think I'm in a good place personally. Coaching forces you to stay energetic and young. Even though I'm now 62, I'm just as enthusiastic about coaching as ever.

Maybe that's because my job isn't just about basketball. We always say a prayer as a team before the game starts, and I am so privileged to share my faith with these young men. I know the effect it had on me when my family set an example of what faith looks like, and I hope I'm doing the same thing for my players now.

Sometimes my players are setting the example for me.


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Thomas Hager