Fit for a role: Tom Messinger climbs the coaching ladder at Hargrave Military Academy


Sports Editor
Published: 6/26/2020 5:48:36 PM

Tom Messinger knew early on in high school that he wanted to coach basketball.

His father, Scott, coached at various levels and Tom caught the bug growing up.

“I grew up around teams and that bond that they had and the power of being a part of something bigger than yourself; all that kind of stuff was something that was ingrained in me,” Messinger said. “I always knew I wanted to get back there.”

Messinger was also aware of his own on-court limitations. A good player at Northampton High School (class of 2006), Messinger played one season at Deerfield Academy then spent four years playing for Hank Smith at Emerson College in Boston. That’s where his playing career ended. After receiving a master’s in 2012 from Smith College, he started a job search that ended with a position at the all-boys Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. That fall he started work as an admissions counselor and assistant varsity basketball coach.

“Hargrave thought I’d be a great fit and I came down here with the goal of one day working with that postgrad team,” Messinger said. “It was lucky and the stars aligning to put me in contact and move through the process like I have.”

In the eight years since starting at Hargrave, Messinger has slowly worked a southern drawl into his accent and has slowly climbed the coaching ladder. On Thursday, the Northampton native was named head coach of the powerhouse postgraduate basketball program.

“It’s unexpected,” the 32-year-old said. “When I first got down here I never thought it would be something I could achieve but it’s an incredible opportunity.”

It shouldn’t have been unexpected. Hargrave has promoted from within for a number of a years now and Messinger was next in line.

In 2014, Messinger was elevated to head coach of the varsity high school team. The following year he was named assistant coach under A.W. Hamliton on the postgraduate team in addition to leading the varsity team.

Following a stint as a full-time assistant coach, he was named associate head coach under Lee Martin. The pair stayed together for three seasons until Martin left for Ohio University.

The coaching ladder started with Kevin Keatts, who led at Hargrave from 1999-2001 and from 2003-2011. Both Hamilton and Martin played for Keatts at Hargrave. Keatts now coaches at N.C. State. Hamilton coaches Eastern Kentucky.

“I was fortunate enough to be with A.W. and now with Lee,” Messinger said. “It’s all part of that Kevin Keatts coaching family so the culture that we built here, the style of play, all that is consistent over the years.”

Martin and Hamilton are just two of the coaches who influenced Messinger. His college coach at Emerson as well as Rey Harp at Northampton were strong role models.

“I have been so fortunate to have incredible coaches along my path, coaches that were way overqualified to ever be coaching someone like me,” Messinger said. “Every single coach that I either coached with or been coached by is so good at what they do.”

Now Messinger has the keys to the Lamborghini that is Hargrave.

The program finished 37-4 last season and was ranked anywhere from 3-5 among the polls. Its schedule is challenging. During the season the team played three games in the Spalding Hoophall Classic, played Woodstock Academy in a National Prep Showcase in Connecticut, then returned to Connecticut for the National Prep Championship.

The team draws top players from around the country and most move on to Division I programs. In three seasons as head coach, Martin sent 28 players to the D-I level.

“We have a whole new roster almost every year so we’re not recruiting two or three spots in an individual class, we’re bringing on a whole roster,” Messinger said. “It’s kind of like getting a master’s degree in recruiting every year when you are down here. That type of roster composition is challenging but it’s also one of the most rewarding and fun parts of the job. You get to go in there and build that roster from scratch every year the way you envision it.”

Messinger said a key to recruiting postgraduates is teaching players about what Hargrave Military Academy is all about.

“It’s not boot camp, it’s not reform school, we’re not training for the next war,” he said. “What we do is utilize the military structure: accountability, you have to look sharp, you have to be respectful, you have to be on time; all of the things the military does so well that everybody needs in life, that’s what we accentuate down here.”

Messinger is hoping to expand Hargrave’s reach into the Northeast. Marblehead’s James Dunlop (2017-18) was the last New England player to play for Hargrave. Meanwhile, the program has sent several players to Division I program in the Northeast. Freddie Riley (2009-2013) and Donte Clark (2014-17) were the most recent Hargrave grads to play at UMass.

“I hope I’m a bridge for that. I would love to see some of our guys go up north,” Messinger said. “One of the biggest things about Hargrave Military Academy is it’s kind of an unknown what this school is really like in the Northeast. Hopefully I can let people know what we’re all about and show the advantages. I would love to get a couple New England guys, a Massachusetts guy down here if for no other reason than we can root for the Red Sox together. I need some Red Sox support down here.”

Mike Moran can be reached at Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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