Facebook: Donald Hand and 'Donald Hand Basketball'
Congratulations to Head Coach Tony Bennett and the University of Virginia (UVA) Cavaliers on recently winning their first NCAA men's basketball national championship in program history! I tweeted the win as the 'comeback of the century,' acknowledging the incredible bounce back from the team after suffering an early exit in last year's tournament. I genuinely felt happy for the players and coaches, as I've held a great deal of respect for the Cavaliers ever since having the opportunity to interact with the program's members up close and personal back in 2015. I worked their summer week-long youth camp as a counselor. Reflecting on their win also made me realize something else: my family and I sure do personally know quite a few of the university's former basketball players. That notion, along with UVA being at the top of the college basketball world currently, led to the idea of this new series I'm introducing: 'You Know 'Hoo'' The 'Wahoos,' shortened to 'Hoos, serve as the unofficial nickname for UVA's sports teams. For the remainder of April, heading into May, I plan to start releasing features on particular 'Hoos that I've personally known throughout the years; focusing on their success in both the past and present.
A four-year letterman from 1998-2001, Donald Hand starred not only as a scoring guard but also as one of the most reliable leaders for the Cavaliers. He holds the title as UVA's first player to serve as a team captain for three consecutive years. Ever since retiring from the game, like most former standouts, Hand's still found a way to use basketball as his main platform to help other young players grow.
Hand's early days as a hooper traces back to his upbringing in the Northeast region of Paterson, NJ. Growing up in an area full of talent during the late-1990s, basketball was most likely hard to escape and Hand soon discovered the orange ball could take him places if he kept putting in the work. For his high school career, he ultimately decided to attend Paterson Catholic High School within the city, where he became a five-star prospect and teammates with local star/future 13-year NBA veteran, Tim Thomas. In his senior campaign, Hand averaged a near triple-double of 19.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 9.2 assists. Those insane numbers caught the eyes of many college coaches and, after narrowing his options down, Hand chose UVA for his college hoops.
Even with that outstanding high school production, Hand most likely would've also received recognition for his spot on one of the best AAU teams of all time: the 'Pat Cats' (professionally known as Paterson AAU at the time). Fast forward to present day, and the program has transformed into the NJ Playaz Basketball Club, or simply 'PBC.' Nonetheless, a few websites regard the 1990s' 'Pat Cats' as arguably a top-three team to ever compete in AAU basketball. About 25 years have passed and basketball audiences can still recall the immense amount of talent that made up the squad.
'Oh, yes sir, we had plenty of guys,' Hand commented. 'Me, Tim (Thomas), Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Edmund Saunders, Rodney Rogers, and Vincent Mitchell, to name a few.'
Time with the Hoos
Like most of the UVA greats, Hand contributed early on in his days in the program. The 6'0' Cavalier started 110 of his 120 appearances and took over a role as more of a combo guard. In my opinion, I think the most impressive facet of Hand's career involved the massive leap he made from a first-year to a sophomore. After averaging 4.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists during that 1997-98 beginner season in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), he returned to campus the following semester and boosted his numbers up exceptionally. Hand erupted during his sophomore outing with season averages of 17.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists; having also improved in every category when talking in terms of shooting efficiency. One of his best moments as a Hoo took place during that same season when he lit up North Carolina State with 41 points; the most ever scored by a UVA sophomore.
It still perplexes me that Hand didn't land an All-ACC nod for such stellar play throughout his sophomore outing. However, that would change the following season, when the junior guard earned a spot on the All-ACC second team for a season effort of 15 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. Senior year saw some of the same production from Hand and UVA went on to have their best overall season with him on campus. The Hoos finished with a record of 20-9 (ranked #16 in the country by The Associated Press) and made their first NCAA tournament appearance in years. Unfortunately, they suffered a heartbreaking 86-85 first-round exit to the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
When looking through the old UVA record books, Hand's name will pop up in a few categories. He ranks 19th all-time in the program's scoring list (1,486 career points), fourth in assists (529) and tied for fifth with Harold Deane '97 in steals (179). For his four years, Hand averaged 12.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. A couple of years ago, he was honored at the 2015 New York Life ACC Tournament as an ACC Tournament Legend; one of 16 players to receive the honor that year.
After graduation, Hand continued his playing career for about six more years as a professional. He made a big impact on the Greenville Groove, a former National Basketball Development League (NBDL) organization based out of Greenville, SC.
'I was actually on the team that won the first NBDL title (in the history of the league) back in 2002,' Hand stated, with some pride.
Even with Greenville's successful inaugural season in the NBDL, the franchise would end up folding following the 2002-03 season. This led to Hand making his way into overseas ball. After journeying across the world, with stints in Belgium, Russia, France, and Sweden, he felt the time had arrived to say goodbye to the game and focus on the next chapter of his life.
Where is He Now'
Well, I guess Hand didn't completely say goodbye to the game' just to his playing career. Ever since hanging the jersey up, Hand has found his place in both coaching and training as a way to continue his role as a basketball influence. He has his own organization, titled 'Donald Hand Basketball,' which provides opportunities for young players to receive skills training, assessments, and camp/clinic participation. Ages range in various levels and Hand's been known for producing next-level talent for the past several years. With that experience as an ACC standout and former professional, I know his clients can learn an ample amount of the game from the Cavalier great. More information of Hand's organization can be found on its website and Facebook page; both listed above.
As far as coaching, I initially saw this in Hand when he formerly coached my younger brother in travel basketball a few years ago. I remember my first conversation with him in the bleachers of a gym, while waiting for other AAU games to finish up. During the conversation, I clearly noted a passionate tone in his voice as he discussed his goal to help his young group reach their highest ceiling. Hand's IQ, connection with his players, and demeanor has made him an important figure in this coaching field, especially once he made the jump to high school basketball. Once the 2014-15 arrived, he took over the reins of Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Virginia. This past 2018-19 season saw him complete his first year as the head coach of Great Bridge Christian Academy (Chesapeake, VA). A roster containing plenty of next-level talent, the Eagles went on to win their conference championship. I had a chance to watch the team compete last December, during Highland School's (Warrenton, VA) hosted 'Holiday Hoops Showcase.'
Those should know, however, that there's a talented prospect within the Hand household who's on the brink of exploding onto the basketball scene: Donald Hand, Jr., known as 'DJ.' Only in the class of 2022, the youthful 'DJ' recently finished up an excellent first varsity season for Landstown High School (Virginia Beach, VA). He emerged as one of the team's leading scorers, was placed on the All-Tidewater second team, and helped the Eagles secure the 2019 VHSL Class 6 state championship; the first title win ever in program history. Just like his pops, 'DJ' has a chance to become something special in the 757 area of Virginia. He's already about 6'2,' has great playmaking skills, and operates with a smooth feel in transition. I feel he may soon rank among the best in the state. *Pictures of 'DJ' below.*
Having established a good bond with Hand in our basketball circle, my family always enjoys running into him at events or inviting him over to the house whenever he's in town. He definitely brings a good energy and humor whenever in the vicinity; something that I'm sure others close to him will acknowledge. From the first time I saw Hand coach, to now covering his team/players as a scout, I can firmly say that his passionate coaching approach hasn't changed a bit. One could see from a far distance how much he cares for the game and his group of guys whenever coaching. It's a trait my brother acknowledged during his days with Hand, which resulted in a strong appreciation. I honestly feel the 40-year old's up for greater happenings down the road in this coaching gig. To win a conference championship in your first year at a new school will always catch attention. Great Bridge looks primed to only garner more success with Hand leading the ship. As far as the father-son situation, there's no telling to how good 'DJ' can become. All I know is that it's in his blood' so foes better watch out.
If you haven't come across it yet, be sure to check out my other articles of this 'You Know 'Hoo' series also: feat. Justin Anderson, feat. Harold Deane, Jr., and feat. Sean Singletary. More pieces to release soon!