Southern Miss

He was once the nation’s highest paid assistant. USM is giving him a second chance.

Southern Miss introduces basketball coach Jay Ladner

Southern Miss introduces Jay Ladner as it’s men’s basketball coach.
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Southern Miss introduces Jay Ladner as it’s men’s basketball coach.

The same Southern Miss basketball program that gave Larry Eustachy a second chance in his head coaching career will now serve as the host of another reclamation project, this one for a man who once ranked among the nation’s top assistant coaches.

USM has hired Austin Peay staff member Dalonte Hill, who was once the highest paid assistant in college basketball during his stint at Kansas State from 2006-11. With his salary topping out at $423,750, he built a reputation at KSU as one of the nation’s top recruiters.

He moved to Maryland in 2011 and again attracted star recruits like guard Melo Trimble, but a string of DUI arrests put a halt to his climb in the coaching profession.

His first arrest in January 2012 resulted in probation and a two-game suspension from the Maryland staff. His second led to his forced resignation in November 2013.

While in search of another full-time coaching job, Hill finally hit rock bottom when he was arrested a third time on Nov. 12, 2015, and eventually sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Once he left Howard County jail in Maryland, Hill told the Washington Post in March of 2016 that he had quit drinking and had begun to spend more time with his family.

The former UNC-Charlotte basketball standout and assistant coach made his return to college coaching in May of 2017 when Austin Peay coach Matt Figger, who worked with Hill on the staff at KSU, added him to his staff. The Governors were 41-25 overall and 25-11 in the Ohio Valley Conference during Hill’s time there.

USM head coach Jay Ladner, who was hired to take over his alma mater’s program in April, has decided that it’s well worth giving Hill the chance to take another step back in his coaching career.

Hill was touring the Hattiesburg campus with a recruit on Thursday when he took the time to talk about his path to Southern Miss.

“It’s been humbling. It’s been good,” the 40-year-old Hill said. “It made me slow down and appreciate things, see things in a different way. I hadn’t been on the (Ohio Valley Conference) level before so I didn’t know much about that level. I had to learn, study and be more patient. I had to recruit in a different way than at high major schools. At a lower level, you might not get the best player off an that AAU team. You have to stay in the gym a little longer.”

Hill was upbeat as he described where things currently stand for him on a personal level.

“Good, good. I constantly try to keep myself around good people,” he said. “If you continue to have people believe in you and they give you these opportunities, you have to make the most out of them.”

Ladner acknowledged that it took several weeks to finalize Hill’s hiring, and he feels confident that he has made a good move.

“We’ve certainly done our homework there and spoken to everyone involved,” Ladner said. “He did a great job at Austin Peay. I know (coach Matt Figger) was sick to lose him. There have been no other issues. He’s actually a great success story. The biggest thing to me is the fact that he said once he started going back to church, his whole life changed in the right direction. What happened back in ‘13, he’s moved past that professionally. I’m glad he got a second chance at Austin Peay and there were no issues there. We feel that the issue that surfaced at Maryland is well behind him.”

Hill was originally speaking with new Southeastern Louisiana head coach David Kiefer, who served on the KSU staff as a student manager from 2006-08, when the topic of potentially joining Ladner’s new staff came up in conversation. Hill and Ladner had crossed paths on the recruiting trail a time or two, but it took Ladner reaching out to see if he had any desire to join his staff.

It turned out the men had a mutual interest in working together.

“I got a better feel for him when we talked about the style of play and his beliefs, on and off the court,” Hill said. “Once I talked with him and spent a little time with him, we just had to make sure that administration was OK with it. The process took a while so it took patience on both sides.”

Now that he’s officially on board, it will be up to Hill to bolster USM’s recruiting efforts. While he won’t have close to the budget he worked with at KSU or Maryland, he does have plenty of connections that he has developed since first becoming a Division I assistant coach at Charlotte in 2003.

“I think I’ve done a good job of networking over the years,” he said. “I have people who want to believe in me and believe in my journey. Everybody who gets to know Coach Ladner knows that he’s not only a good coach, but a good family person. I have guys in Atlanta, guys in Memphis and guys in Florida. Everybody is willing to help. That puts my eyes on their kids.”

Hill’s arrival at Southern Miss isn’t the first time he has stepped foot on the campus. In 2000, his playing career at UNC-Charlotte came to a close when he suffered a knee injury while taking on the Golden Eagles at Reed Green Coliseum on Feb. 9, 2000 — a 66-52 win for the 49ers.

“I told Coach Ladner when I got here that it was a blessing,” Hill said. “I ended my basketball career here with a torn meniscus. It’s amazing.”

Hill completes Ladner’s staff, joining a pair of USM alums, Clarence Weatherspoon and Kyle Roane, as assistants. Garland Wilson was named the program’s director of basketball operations and Anthony Winchester is the team’s video coordinator.

“We have an incredible staff for the University Southern Mississippi,” Ladner said. “I can’t be more excited.

“(Hill) is regarded as one of the top assistant coaches in the country. We had an incredible pool of candidates for the position. Our top choice was Dolante and he gives us a national base of contacts. He has recruited at a high level in Division 1.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.