Each Friday during the 2017-18 academic year, the conference office will release a SCAC Spotlight feature story. For the first 15 weeks, the focus of these feature stories will be former student-athletes who played at an SCAC institution and went on to become head coaches in the conference.
In this, the seventh SCAC Spotlight feature, we sit down with Southwestern University's Janson Hightower who has never had a losing season with the Pirates.
A young student-athlete looking to play basketball in college, Janson Hightower didn’t truly think about Division III until his senior year of high school.
Growing up as a multi-sport athlete and under a father who wore many coaching hats, Hightower’s interest in playing for universities and colleges started with a few connections, which his father could help provide.
“If I wanted to continue to play, he was going to try to help open those doors,” Hightower said. “He’s been a high school coach in the state of Oklahoma for, I think he’s going on year 34, so he knew some people but he didn’t push me to play unless I wanted to.”
But the entire state of Oklahoma didn’t have one Division III institution, nor in neighboring state Kansas, so the Division III philosophy wasn’t familiar to Hightower.
Many NAIA institutions close to Hightower’s hometown of Tulsa sought out his skills but it was Jarred Samples, who at the time was the assistant at Southwestern University and now currently the University of Dallas head coach, that changed Hightower’s thoughts on his higher education path. Samples and Hendrix College assistant, now head coach, Thad McCracken showed Hightower just what Division III was all about. After many phone calls from the assistants, Hightower chose to attend Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, just a few hours from his hometown, which really appealed to Hightower.
Growing up with parents who very involved in education (Hightower’s mother is a teacher), Hightower knew education came first and was fortunate his coach at Hendrix felt the same way.
“I was very blessed that I could find this level and balance on the academic side as well as to play on some great teams and go to some really cool places,” Hightower said.
But after graduation, Hightower felt his time on the court wasn’t over.
Hightower found an opportunity to work under Southwestern’s Head Men’s Basketball Coach Bill Raleigh and did everything he could to try to impress the coach he once played against. Since Hightower was familiar with Southwestern’s program, he felt he could relate to the athletes experiences he once had.
“That was the biggest thing is that I just wanted to show him that I was willing to work,” Hightower said. “That I was good with [the fact that] this wasn’t a stepping stone job, that I like this level. I think sometimes people take this as what they think is a lower-level job just to try to move up, but it was a place where I really wanted to be.”
But the SCAC family with similar thoughts stretches with many more people besides Hightower. From being recruited by Samples to now playing against his team every year and working with former SCAC student athletes now head coaches in the same league- there’s 15 of them. Centenary College’s Women’s Basketball Head Coach David Foley falls under that umbrella as Hightower remembers sharing four years of memories with Foley on the court at Hendrix. Both men took similar paths after graduation to holding graduate assistant spots at the Division I level and are now back in the SCAC.
Hightower and Foley kept in touch after graduation from Hendrix despite being multiple states away, now they’re in neighboring states.
“It’s been cool,” Hightower said. “It’s nice when we go to Shreveport or when they come here to reconnect and talk with him.”
Both coaches were voted in the National Association of Basketball Coaches 30-under-30 team in 2016, a high honor, and it’s clear that SCAC basketball is in good hands.
Besides being involved in the game he loves, Hightower loves everything the Division III philosophy stands for.
“I think the balance you get and how hard you need to work in the off-season when your coaches can’t be with you really shows how internally motivated you need to be, if you want to get better,” Hightower said. “You have time to be in other organizations, you have your time that you need to work on your studies.”
Catch Hightower coaching the Pirates all season long in Georgetown, Texas.
Previous SCAC Spotlights:
11|17|2017 - Sam Davidson, Schreiner University
11|10|2017 - Mark Hudson, Austin College
10|27|2017 - Matt Barber, University of Dallas
10|20|2017 - Jeherme Urban, Trinity University
10|13|2017 - David Foley, Centenary College
10|06|2017 - Emily Daum, Trinity University
09|29|2017 - Ryan Dodd, Austin College