NASHVILLE --- Tennessee State men’s basketball Head Coach Brian “Penny” Collins completed his coaching staff with the addition of Russ Willemsen as an Assistant Coach. The Rushville, N.Y. native with ties to the Nashville area arrives at TSU after serving as an assistant at South Alabama for the last five seasons.
Prior to his time in Mobile, Ala., Willemsen spent eight seasons on staff at Tennessee Tech.
"I've known Russ for over 10 years going back to when I first got into the business," Collins said. "He will bring a wealth of knowledge to TSU from his experience at Tennessee Tech. He is very familiar with the league from his time at Tennessee Tech. We expect Russ to have a big-time impact on our guys and is a key piece of our staff."
Willemsen joins Ben Walker and Jerry Nichols as assistant coaches for the Tigers on Collins’ first staff at TSU.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to work with Coach Collins here at Tennessee State,” Willemsen said. “He’s had a lot of success as a head coach and an assistant coach. We have a great staff in place. Jerry Nichols has been one of the best junior college coaches in the country consistently, and Ben Walker has been to two-straight NCAA Tournaments. It’s an opportunity you can’t say no to. My wife’s family is from Nashville, so it will be great to be here with family. Nashville’s a great city, and Tennessee State is a great school. It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
During his time at South Alabama, the Jaguars had four All-Sun Belt Conference honorees and reached the Sun Belt Tournament quarterfinals twice. USA also posted a 42-31 home record in his five seasons to go with a number of tough road wins including at UNLV.
Willemsen worked closely with two-time All-Sun Belt selection Ken Williams, who scored 1,723 career points and set a school record with 253 made three-pointers.
During Willemsen’s run at Tennessee Tech, the Golden Eagles won 19 or more games in a season four times, including a 20-win campaign in 2010-11 that resulted in an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. The Golden Eagles followed up with 19 wins in 2011-12 and another invite to the CIT.
His first two years on staff ended with a total of 38 wins as Tennessee Tech claimed 19 victories in each of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons and went a combined 26-14 (.650 win percentage) in Ohio Valley Conference play.
While on staff, he coached 12 All-OVC performers, including one NBA draft pick (Kevin Murphy) and two others who made NBA Summer League rosters. The Golden Eagles also had four named to the OVC All-Tournament Team.
In addition to his on-court duties, Willemsen served as camp director and oversaw the team’s academic progress. His work helped the program to the 2007 and 2008 OVC Academic Achievement Award.
He spent his first season at Tech as the director of basketball operations where he coordinated team travel, produced recruiting materials and coordinated film exchange.
Willemsen started in the coaching field as an undergrad at his alma mater, Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn. He served on the staff for four seasons as a student-assistant before moving into a part-time role in 2004-05. The Flames had six players named to NAIA All-America teams and advanced to the round of 16 and quarterfinals of the NAIA National Tournament during his five seasons.
A regular contributor to CollegeChalktalk.com, Willemsen also wrote the introductory article for the site’s series on John Wooden, Pyramid Tribute: In Memory of John Wooden. He has also written articles for BasketballHQ.com.
Willemsen earned his bachelor’s degree in 2004 in physical education and history education from Lee and a master’s in instructional leadership in 2007 at Tennessee Tech. Willemsen is married to his wife, Sarah.