Hassell tapped to lead NRHS boys basketball program

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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By Matthew Hatfield

When Nansemond River decided not to renew Ed Young’s contract to continue as its head boys’ basketball coach for the 2024-25 campaign, it shocked not just the veteran sideline boss with over 500 victories but also many close observers of the sport statewide.

Young, who went 517-297 overall in 34 seasons, including 295-161 in 19 seasons with the Warriors, is never one to be shy about communicating his feelings. He even expressed a public endorsement of who the school should select as the successor.

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That person was Joseph Hassell, his junior varsity coach of the past three seasons and a varsity assistant.  

Hassell came to Nansemond River after previously playing and coaching at Southeastern District foe Indian River in Chesapeake.  There was some anxiety, to say the least, yet the administration at Nansemond River made it official in early May with his appointment to the lead chair. 

“I spoke with Coach Young, and he brought me on his staff,” said Hassell, who played in college at Division II Chowan in North Carolina and then at the D-3 level with Randolph-Macon in Ashland. “Nansemond River has always had a rich tradition of winning, even when I was playing at Indian River.  A lot of people feared Nansemond River in those days.  It’s a rich history.  To be a part of that and with someone like Coach Young, who has done it for a very long time and people have a lot of respect for, it was an easy decision for me.  I thank him big time for allowing me to have that opportunity,”

It’s only natural for Hassell to flashback to 2021 at what could’ve been, and almost was, disappointed when his alma mater chose to go in a different direction for its head basketball coaching position.

“It was a very frustrating situation for me.  At the end of the day, it wasn’t my decision.  My first couple of months here (at Nansemond River), it still sat with me,” recalled Hassell, now 31. “But I think the main thing Coach Young has taught me with growth is that you can’t control everything.  That’s a situation that happened, okay, so you move on and make the best of the next situation.  It’s something I’ve kept in my mind, I’m past it, and I’m at a better place.  Another thing Coach Young has pushed for us as a coaching staff is being able to understand that everything isn’t for you.  At that time, that wasn’t for me.  I’m at a place now that is for me.”

Hassell has grown up around basketball. His older brother, Frank Hassell, starred at Old Dominion following his time at Indian River and went on to play professionally, even leading the Israel Basketball Premier League in rebounding during 2012-13. When Joe was done at Indian River, he received a full scholarship to play at Chowan.

In his first college game at Chowan, Joe tore three ligaments in his right ankle.  Remarkably, he still managed to play the whole season and had to get cortisone shots every couple of weeks to alleviate the pain.

“I really damaged my ankle doing that, and at the time, I didn’t really understand how important your body is.  I just wanted to play and wanted to win,” Hassell noted.

The following year, he sat out and rehabbed his ankle.  Chavez Mabry, who once coached basketball and tennis in Suffolk at Nansemond River, extended Hassell a spot on his bench coaching at Indian River during what was the NBA lockout season for Joe’s brother Frank.  From there, Joe continued his college career at Randolph-Macon, posting 12.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game during his 2014-15 senior campaign with the Yellow Jackets.

His experiences as a player and then as an assistant coach, both at Indian River and Nansemond River, proved beneficial in allowing him to see how people interact from the playing and coaching perspectives.

“Coaching is more of a chess game.  You have to create strategies to figure out what the other team is doing, make adjustments so we have the upper hand, and it’s a back-and-forth chess game.   (Being) a part of a winning program at Randolph-Macon that is always in the rankings in Division III and a national powerhouse also taught me a lot,” Hassell explained.

“The main thing I focused on was I know how I want to run a program and believe in how I want to run a program.  I’ve been in a couple different spots not just coaching, but also playing.  I’ve been able to see the bright spots and negative.”

While there will surely be some challenges along the way, Young envisions great things ahead for Hassell and the Warriors. 

“I am very happy and excited for Joe.  In terms of being in the program, he’s done a great job,” Young said. “ The J.V.’s have won games.  To win as a J.V. coach and do it the right way is not easy because my expectations are pretty rough.  Joe had a hand in a lot of things, if not everything, in the program.”

Only three seniors, two of which started, will graduate from the Nansemond River team that went 15-8 overall last season and fell at fifth-seeded Norview, 52-49, in the Region 5B quarterfinals.  Nine players averaged 10-plus minutes, so depth should be a strong suit for them moving ahead.

“We’re bringing back a lot of those younger guys.  We’re going to bring some excitement,” Hassell said.  “We’re going to be fast, physical and want to bring back that stigma of people are afraid of Nansemond River when those guys like Andre Jones, Nick Wright and even Marquie Cooke played.  Nansemond River was the top dog and I want to bring that back.”