Like most people would, when Carlin Hartman accepted a new job last April the first phone calls he made were to some of his closest friends. But with Hartman returning to Rice University as associate head coach after roughly a decade away from South Main, these particular friends were understandably ecstatic.
Hartman has remained close with a number of players he coached and recruited as well as some of the Rice Basketball alumni he met in his previous stints - as an assistant coach in 1996-97 and as the director of operations from 2002-04.
"I have more Rice alums and former Rice basketball players in my phone contacts than from my days attending Tulane because this is what I've grown up to know: Rice Basketball," Hartman said. "Torrey Andrews is one of my best friends, and he was one of the best players to come through here. Brent Scott is also a really good friend. I talk to him all the time and he's a really big Rice supporter. J.J. Polk, who now works for the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans, was on that same team with Shaun Igo and Jarvis Kelley Sanni. The list just goes on and on. I've played in leagues with Adam Peakes, Kevin Rabbitt, Scott Tynes and Dana Hardy. Throughout my early existence as a coach until now, these guys have been really big supporters of not only our program and me, but also the overall Rice culture. It's just awesome."
In the coaching profession, those player-coach relationships are extremely valuable, but the college basketball fraternity extends well outside of each team's locker room as well. Coaches often seek out other coaches to share knowledge and ideas.
Hartman first met Mike Rhoades in 2005. Rhoades was the head coach at Randolph-Macon and one of his former players, Jamal Brunt, worked on the University of Richmond coaching staff with Hartman.
"The first time I met Mike was at our office at Richmond. Jamal, who is now the associate head coach at Richmond, is one of his former players and assistant coaches at Randolph-Macon. Mike also had a previous relationship with Richmond head coach Chris Mooney, and so he would come visit us on occasion. From that moment, we would just talk a lot of basketball and he would come over and play pickup games. When he would play, this is no lie; he was like a poor man's Steve Nash. He was competitive, a great playmaker and shot maker in those games. I always tried to get on his team. Anytime he came, if it was my choice, I would choose him with my first pick. When he would pick first he would usually try to choose me, too. It was always a good sign of respect."
When Rhoades accepted the head coaching position at Rice last March, Hartman felt like his former pickup teammate made the right decision.
"I told Coach Rhoades before he took the job that this is a `diamond in the rough' job, being in a major metropolitan city like Houston at one of the best academic schools in the world and definitely in this region. There are so many positives to this place, and I've always just believed in it that it can be a good job and you could sustain a level of success."
Soon after that, Rhoades began to assemble his staff. While completing his fourth season at Columbia University, Hartman began to think that a return to Houston could be in the future.
"When Mike got the job, I thought we would have a conversation about it. Then as things began to escalate more and more, I realized this was a real possibility. Then when I took the job, I was really excited about it. I'm glad I came back and I'm glad I'm here because I've always felt like there's unfinished business at this place."
"The first couple of weeks were like a whirlwind. We were trying to finish up recruiting and get acclimated to each other. We were all living in a med center hotel. But there was a level of excitement and we stayed in the office a lot of late nights. We didn't have our families with us yet, but we all had the same common goal in terms of where the program was going to go and where we could envision it going. The excitement level of those first couple of weeks, traveling around and representing Rice University again for me was awesome. It really was."
Hartman's feelings of unfinished business at Rice stretch back to his first stint with the program in the 1996-97 season, as he began his coaching career.
"I always had an affinity for this place, since I played at a private school in Tulane and Rice was my first job as a coach. When I left in 1997 for McNeese State, it probably became my biggest regret as a coach because I think I left Rice way too soon. I was a restricted-earnings assistant coach here, so at the time the money wasn't great and I wasn't able to go on the road - only two assistants could travel. So I took the first opportunity that came my way, and really I should have stayed learned more under head coach Willis Wilson and learned more about the business and industry here instead of chasing a higher salary and more responsibilities as a recruiting coach. I needed to learn more under him at Rice."
During that season, Hartman laid down the foundation not only for his coaching career, but also with some young men that would stay in his life for many years after their departures from Rice.
"When I got the job here as a 26-year old, it was my first coaching job and it was so exciting. I was coaching these guys that, I had no idea at the time, would become some of my very good friends nearly 20 years later. (Shaun) Igo was a great player and he played overseas for a long time. (Jarvis) Kelley Sanni was a transfer from Arizona who came to Rice and had a really good two-year stretch for us. The same goes for Bobby Crawford. I see Chad Michael constantly and he's now working with Bobby Tudor."
Those roots only strengthened when Hartman returned in 2002.
"When I left and came back, that's when I had a really big imprint on the program because I have more of a solidified role. Mike Wilks was a guy that I had a big role with in the recruiting process and he was phenomenal as a player and a kid. As he was leaving and transitioning, we were fortunate to recruit Mike Harris and Jason McKrieth and Brock Gillespie in that class - three 1,000-point scorers that won so many games and made big plays. They played as freshmen and they grew so much from there and went to two postseason tournaments in back-to-back years."
"We had so many good leaders. And in between those times, we had guys like Omar Mance, who was an All-WAC player, and Yamar Diene, who transformed what we were. He gave us that edge of toughness. J.R. Harrison was another kid that was under-recruited from Gainesville, Texas, but he gave us a lot of grit. Lorenzo Williams was a talented scorer. We had so many pieces and that was really cool. From that stretch of 2001 to 2005, we had a lot of really good players. In my two years, we won 41 games and I think we were 10 games over .500 in conference play in that time."
Those relationships undoubtedly made it easy for Hartman to decide to return to Rice this past year, as he has so many fond memories with each of those former players. Once he arrived back on campus, Hartman was also welcomed back by some other familiar faces.
"One thing that hasn't changed is that I still see [Associate Director of Academic Advising for Athletics] Julie Griswold every day. I run into [track coaches] Jim Bevan and Jon Warren as well as [Assistant Director of Academic Advising for Athletics] Mike Yeakel. Those are people that I got to meet and got to know, an having them around and seeing them every day brought back a lot of memories and reminded me why I wanted to come back here and why it was going to work out just fine."