By Richard Burnett
From the peaks of South Africa, to the beaches of Bahrain, Sam Vincent has seen the world since his playing days with the Orlando Magic and other NBA teams. Over three decades, he’s logged tens of thousands of miles around the globe, playing and coaching at the international level.
But his most significant trip of 2022 was not on a passenger jet to a faraway land. It was a drive through the rolling hills of Lake County on his way to Beacon College. After a campus stroll and meeting with President Dr. George Hagerty, he was sold on the place.
Today, he’s Coach Sam Vincent, Beacon’s first head coach of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, which will begin only their second season of intercollegiate competition this fall.
Clearly, the college’s nascent hoops program is far removed from his time in the NBA and subsequent journey across four continents as a player, coach, executive and ambassador to the international game.
For Vincent, however, the time was right to come back to his Florida home.
“Of all the destinations I have lived in, the connection here is the strongest,” said the 59-year-old
Michigan native, who was the Magic’s first point guard when the team began 33 years ago. “With all the ties I have to Central Florida and the friends I have here, it just felt right at this time in my life to boomerang back to the area.”
How this happened
In early 2022, Vincent decided to set aside his globetrotting, reestablish roots in Orlando, focus on his family, and get involved in the community. He began to research job opportunities in Central Florida and soon found the coaching job opening at Beacon. He reached out to athletic director Gabe Watson, who set up an interview, campus visit and meeting with Hagerty.
A couple of days before the interview, Vincent drove up to Lake County for a test drive to Leesburg and the Beacon campus. He liked what he saw.
“I thought to myself, wow, this actually looks pretty cool,” he said. “Later, I had the meeting with Dr. Hagerty, where I came away thinking this is a really cool mission for a college. He shared with me his vision and what he’s trying to do in terms of growing the sports program. It really made me feel like it’s a basketball opportunity I would enjoy being a part of.”
Watson said the college is incredibly fortunate to land someone of Vincent’s caliber for a program that is just getting on its feet, along with cross country and golf. Led by Watson’s assistant directors Kyle Close and Tony Wrice, Beacon’s hoops teams began intercollegiate play with a four-game schedule last spring. Under Vincent, the teams — made up mostly of former intramural players — will play eight games in the upcoming season.
“At the beginning, I talked to Sam about the challenges he’ll be presented with here,” Watson said. “Not only coaching players with learning differences, but also starting a new program from the ground up. He didn’t hesitate. He said he loves a challenge and the Beacon mission intrigued him. Overall, it was just a good fit for him at this point in his life.”
Setting realistic goals
One of Vincent’s biggest challenges will be the limited sports resources available at Beacon — not unlike those of any small college inching its way into intercollegiate sports. Beacon has a fitness center and some high quality equipment, but lacks the sports scholarships, gyms, stadiums and other facilities that larger colleges have.
Still, Vincent appears energized by the task before him. In terms of facilities, for example, Beacon’s teams will practice at one of the best in the region — The Big House in Tavares, a multi-sport facility owned by former major league baseball star Chet Lemon. It has nine NBA-quality hardwood courts, along with top-notch volleyball and baseball facilities.
Thirty-three years ago, the Orlando Magic chose Vincent to lead on the court a fledgling NBA franchise. Now, 33 years later, a fledgling institution for neurodivergent students that also opened its doors in 1989, is asking Vincent to do the same.
“The goal is to create an environment and culture around sports, especially basketball, that helps kids know we’re all working hard to give them the opportunity to play in an atmosphere that is competitive, nurturing and understanding,” Vincent said. “The players will obviously have different ways of learning, and our goal is to provide them the support to help them grow and learn at the same time. That will be my focus — not coming here and making them think we have to win 20 games or something like that.”
Photo credits: Jon Soohoo/Getty Images