Womens’s Basketball gains athletic director retiree as assistant coach

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The Dixie State University women’s basketball team welcomed a seasoned Hall of Famer to the coaching staff this year.

Deb Bennett, a retiree athletic director of Skyline High School in Salt Lake City for 16 years, has come to DSU as an assistant coach to head coach JD Gustin.

Bennett brings years of experience to the Trailblazers. She was named UIAAA Athletic Director of the Year for the 2016-17 season. While at Skyline High School, she also head coached the varsity girls basketball team for 19 years and was an eight-time Region Coach of the Year as well as a three-time Utah Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year.

“As an athletic director, you often do see the big picture, and I think it translates into me understanding the paperwork, the policies and behind the scenes,” Bennett said. “And I’ve worked through the years with hundreds of young athletes…it gives me a good background to be a good assistant…I understand how to build good teams, good teamwork, and I think I can contribute with my understanding and analysis of the game.”

Head coach JD Gustin recognized what she could bring to his team, which is why he personally reached out to her and asked her to be an assistant coach.

“[Bennett] has a wealth of experience and a remarkable resume,” Gustin said. “[She’s] somebody that we’re super excited to have around our players every day. I feel like she can help them grow as young people and as basketball players…She’s very respectful, very positive, hardworking, and always doing her very best. Those are things we’re trying to instill with our players every day.”

   Bennett also served as president of the Utah Women’s Basketball Coaches Association from 1994-95. She is a member of the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation Board of Directors and was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation as a Distinguished High School Coach in 2014.

   “She’s made an incredible impact on girls basketball in Utah,” said DSU Athletic Director Jason Boothe.

    Having been involved with DSU’s Team Camps for 17 years, Bennett is already familiar with the university. She will now take over running the Trailblazer Team camp, a summer program for middle school and high school basketball players.

   “I probably would not have come out of retirement to coach for just anywhere else,” Bennett said. “This [university] has always been a special place to me.”

Bennett said she was drawn to DSU because she previously knew Gustin, as well as the other assistant coach, Nicole Yazzie. Yazzie even played at Skyline High School while Bennett was a coach there. Bennett said she is excited to see that Gustin is growing the program tremendously.

“One of the things that is appealing to me is that he’s a phenomenal coach,” she said. “He’s going to raise the level of women’s basketball at Dixie higher than it’s ever been. I’m excited that he’s building this into what I think is going to be a championship program.”

This season, Gustin is focusing on getting the players to be more aggressive defensively. They will be playing a different style of defense than they have in the past, he said. Last season, the team brought home five wins and 21 losses.

“We are hoping to get better,” Gustin said. “We didn’t have a very good year in terms of wins and losses last year, but we’ve done our best to bring in the best recruits.”

Thanks to the recruiting efforts of Gustin and assistant coach Yazzie, last year, both coaches feel they have a stronger team.

“What I like right now [about the team] is the tempo, the defensive focus, and the really positive energy on the team,” Bennett said. “These are some top players from Utah.”

This year, the Trailblazer women’s basketball team will be bringing Division I talent to the court.

“We feel we have a really good product to offer the best talent to come here,” Boothe said. “We’ve successfully recruited a few here that are Division I talent. [They] could be playing at the Division I level, but they’re going to play at this level and have a greater impact right away on this program.”

Given her extensive experience in Utah high school basketball, Boothe is looking forward to what Bennett will bring to recruitment. It is likely she has connections the other coaches may not, which will be helpful when it comes to recruiting, Boothe said.

“[Gustin and Yazzie] have recruited well last year,” Bennett said. “I think they’ll turn this program around. What I see is that they’ve come in with a new, fresh mindset, a lot of energy, they’re recruiting the best kids in Utah, and they have a fine group of athletes they’ve put together…There’s a real excitement about it because you’re growing a team and a program, so the team is excited, and they’re working hard.”

The first home game for the women’s basketball team will be against Colorado Mesa on Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. in the Burns Arena.