Coaching A Natural Fit For Ostrom

FAYETTEVILLE — A reserve point guard his junior season at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, Minn., Tom Ostrom spent just as much time encouraging teammates as he did directing them.

Often seated next to Bethlehem coach Franz Boelter during games, Ostrom would shout inspiring words. He'd read defenses. He'd do several things Boelter expected out of his assistants, not out of the 17-year-old boy who'd eventually become an assistant at Arkansas.

So one night, about 20 years ago, Boelter made the suggestion that has always stuck with Ostrom.

"He just looks at me in the middle of a game, after I was yelling at some of the guys, and says, ‘You should coach,'" Ostrom said.

Upon graduation from high school, Boelter and Ostrom spoke one more time about Ostrom's future. Ostrom talked about possibly being an accountant or an attorney. Boelter said those were noble occupations.

Boelter remembered the conversation Monday.

At the time, after hearing of Ostrom's job possibilities, Boelter recalled saying, "You should really still think about coaching."

One of Arkansas' assistants under new coach John Pelphrey reflected on those coaching beginnings Monday morning, donning a Razorback polo shirt while talking about his path to Fayetteville.

Ostrom stumbled upon his first Division I basketball experience by accident.

"My first day on campus at the University of Minnesota, I was walking around by myself and ran right into the basketball offices," Ostrom said. "I just walked in. It wasn't preconceived. An assistant coach said, ‘Can I help you?' Out of my mouth, I blurted, ‘Is there any way I can help out?'"

The next day, Ostrom showed up to a meeting, as a newly hired student manager. He spent four seasons as a manager for the Golden Gophers, who were then coached by Clem Haskins.

He sat in on meetings. He viewed games from courtside. He participated in film sessions.

"An unbelievable internship," Ostrom said.

In 1993, Ostrom left the university and became involved in AAU basketball. His AAU experience resulted in a relationship with Billy Donovan and Pelphrey, then at Marshall.

Donovan recruited several players on Ostrom's AAU team, and Ostrom made sure to keep in touch. When an opening arose at Florida, Donovan thought of Ostrom.

Ostrom began as an administrative assistant and eventually moved up to being a full-time assistant. Then, in 2005, Ostrom followed Pelphrey to South Alabama. It was a tough decision, "one of the hardest I've made," Ostrom said.

But, at South Alabama, Pelphrey allowed Ostrom more freedom to make important decisions.

"The responsibility that Pel gave me on and off the court, and the trust that he had in me, was incredible," Ostrom said. "Just having that accountability was a great way for me to grow.

"I mean, about a lot of things, he'd say to me, ‘What do you want to do?' That meant a lot."

Ostrom didn't think twice about coming to Arkansas. He agreed with Pelphrey. Arkansas was in the "dream job" category.

And now that he's here, Ostrom wants to continue doing what he thinks he does best: Sparking, developing and maintaining relationships.

He remains in contact with every coach he's ever spent time with on a staff. He calls former players. He even went to the wedding of former Florida player and Memphis Grizzlies forward Mike Miller.

"I still talk with the guys from AAU, from Florida, from South Alabama," Ostrom said. "I miss those guys."

Eventually, Ostrom said he'd feel that way about Arkansas' players.

Before then, though, Ostrom has experienced a crazy first 36 days on the job. He brought only two suitcases full of stuff from Mobile. His house and office there are still packed with his belongings. He couldn't go on his first serious house-hunt in Arkansas until Sunday.

As the Hogs attempt to sign at least two recruits before the spring signing period ends Wednesday, Ostrom has been to Ohio, Texas, Kentucky, New York and many parts of Arkansas.

The job has been relentless, just the way Ostrom likes it. That's no surprise to Boelter, who said he and Ostrom spoke a few times every year.

"I could see from such an early age that he would succeed as a coach," Boelter said. "His observations for what was going on were pretty exceptional for a high school kid. And, he's always learning.

"Every step of the way, he has clearly added to his knowledege-base. He's a great networker, a tremendous recruiter and he knows how to talk to people. That's why he's succeeded wherever he's gone."


Age: 37

Son: Tommy

Colleges: University of Minnesota (Bachelor's Degree)

Assistant Coaching Jobs: Florida (2003-04), South Alabama (2005-07)

Notables: Served as a team manager during all four of his undergrad years at the University of Minnesota under Clem Haskins. ... Played his high school basketball for Franz Boelter at Bethlehem Academy, a Catholic school 45 minutes south of Minneapolis. ... Worked as Florida's administrative assistant and video coordinator for five years before becoming a full-time assistant.

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