JUCO basketball: Dewey returns 'home' as IHCC's new head coach

May 8—OTTUMWA — There are some things that have changed over the past six years since Cole Dewey was part of the Indian Hills basketball coaching staff.

As he walked back into the Hellyer Student Life Center on Tuesday, returning to the school where he served as an assistant coach for three seasons, it was clear there were many things for Dewey that felt very similar in his return to the Ottumwa campus. The 18th head coach in the history of the Warrior basketball program wasted little time letting everyone know just how it felt to be back at Indian Hills with the first three words of Tuesday afternoon's introductory press conference.

"This is awesome," Dewey said. "It really feels like home."

Fittingly, Dewey takes over the coaching reigns following in the footsteps of the two men he worked with the last time he was part of the Indian Hills basketball coaching staff. Josh Sash, who was an assistant coach along with Dewey, stepped down from the position as head coach after one season guiding the Warriors back to the NJCAA National Tournament semifinals to accept a role as assistant coach at Drake University.

Sash took over last year replacing Hank Plona, who last month was promoted from assistant coach to head coach at Western Kentucky. Plona hired both Sash and Dewey to his coaching staff at Indian Hills, leading to three successful seasons together as the Warriors won 91 of 102 games making the national tournament all three years highlighted by the 2017-18 season in which Indian Hills finished 33-1, climbing to the top of the NJCAA Division I national rankings heading into postseason play.

"I fully understand what it means to be the head coach here at Indian Hills. I was fortunate enough to sit in the other two seats up there for three years," said Dewey while pointing towards the southwest corner of the Hellyer Center where the offices of the IHCC basketball coaches are located. "I'm fortunate enough to move over that giant office in the corner that everyone wishes they had. I finally get to sit in the third seat. That's very unique that I've been able to see it from all different angles. Now, I'm finally able to see it from that first chair."

Dewey is no stranger to sitting in the first chair of a junior college basketball program. Following IHCC's 33-1 season, Dewey was hired to take over as head coach at Otero Junior College leading the Rattlers to 45 wins and a top-five national ranking over the course of three seasons.

"That first year, just like every first year for a head coach on any level, was like a whirlwind and you're just trying to figure it out," Dewey said. "You're just trying to do your best at the end of the day because there are so many things you haven't had to deal with before that are coming across your plate on a daily basis.

"By year two, you kind of get your feet up underneath you and kind of get a feel for things. By year three, everyone says that's when you catch your stride and start to figure things out."

Dewey has also had to deal with curveballs during his career as a head coach. After taking over Garden City Community College, making another return to a program at which he had served as an assistant, Dewey had to lead the Broncbusters through a shortened COVID-19 season that ended with a 9-13 record, the only losing season on Dewey's record.

"On paper, it was my worst season," Dewey said. "There were a lot of positives that came out of that season."

That included stunning heavily-favored Butler in the Region VI Tournament while coming within a second of advancing to the regional finals by knocking off current NJCAA national champion Barton County in the regional semifinals. One of the players that Dewey coached on that team, Mohamed Diarra, was a key player that helped North Carolina State make a dramatic run to the NCAA Final Four this past March.

"On paper, it wasn't a great year from the outside in, but from what I know from how those kids came together and embraced chaos with people telling them all the things they couldn't do, we all grew together," Dewey said. "I grew as a coach. My coaching staff grew up a lot that season."

Dewey most recently has been an assistant coach at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, working under Steve Lutz who moved on to Western Kentucky and hired Plona last year before moving on to accept the position at Oklahoma State. Lutz led both programs to conference tournament titles and NCAA tournaments with Dewey on the staff for a Corpus Christi team that earned an 'First Four' win in the 2023 tournament earning the Islanders a match-up with Alabama in Birmingham two days later.

It was in that NCAA Tournament game that Dewey had a realization.

"We're playing in that packed 15,000-seat arena during the NCAA Tournament. I sat there and realized that atmosphere is no different than when the Hellyer Center gets rocking when Indian Hills gets rolling," Dewey said. "Sitting over there on that bench when this place is packed feels exactly the same as it does playing at packed house against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. That's what I try to tell the guys. Warrior fans give us a home-court advantage that is like no other place in the country."

Dewey plans on hitting the ground running putting together another Indian Hills team capable of challenging for a national title with a challenging schedule set to prepare the Warriors for a potential returning to Hutchinson, Kansas in March. Dewey acknowledged that putting a team together has become more difficult with the ongoing movement of players through the transfer portal.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't already out there doing some recruiting before I even got the job," Dewey said. "That's non-stop. It's 24 hours. Scheduling, recruiting and making sure these kids that are with the program have what they need to move on are my most important priorities right now.

"This is the second time I've come back to a college or university I've worked at previously. Something I value and something I take pride in are the relationships I've built over the years. My old college coach still calls me to check in to see how my old college teammates are doing. It's all about relationships at the end of the day. I walked back in here and saw so many people I knew from my three years that I was part of this school. It's those relationships that provide the support to make Indian Hills basketball successful."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.