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Ex-Mount Hebron star an up-and-coming college hoops assistant

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Amy Mallon would still play basketball every day if she could.

Her stellar high school, college and professional careers went by way too fast, and the Mount Hebron graduate could not let go. At 39, she's still in the game, although the ball is now in someone else's hands.

As the associate head coach at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Mallon is passing on the knowledge she gained as an All-Metro player at Mount Hebron, an honorable mention All-American at Saint Joseph's and a professional player in Luxembourg and for a season with the Philadelphia Rage of the defunct American Basketball Association.

"We always tell the star players, it's the next best thing to playing, to coach at this level," Mallon said. "I think the coaches are the ones who were the extremes on our teams. We [were] the ones who were crazy about the sport. We worked hard and we were in the gym every day. That's why we coach."

Dave Greenberg saw that when he coached Mallon at Mount Hebron from 1984 to 1988.

"Amy was the best competitor I've ever coached. I never had a kid who rose to the occasion, male or female, like she did. The bigger the game, the better she played. The other thing is her teammates loved her. She was so unselfish, and she made everyone around her better. No one ever resented what she did because she was never about herself," said Greenberg, now the girls coach at Hilton Head Island High in South Carolina.

Mallon said she didn't think about coaching back then. Since first grade, she wanted to be a teacher.

"I always wanted to be in education, which I think coaching is. Basketball has pointed me in that direction, because everywhere I've gone - and I was in a high school before I came to Drexel - I think it kind of led me to a level now that I really enjoy. I like the Division I level, I like the competitiveness, and I like working with the student-athletes. It's just a point in their lives where you really have a lot of impact."

Mallon credited her high school coaches - Greenberg and his assistants, Jim Stromberg, now at St. Paul's, and Brad Rees, now at McDonogh - with planting the seed for her coaching career.

"I feel like I was really lucky," she said. "I had three great high school coaches. I think they all put that thought there. I didn't know it was going to be there, but as I look back on it, I can see that they had an impact on me."

At Mount Hebron, however, she was more interested in sports - volleyball and softball, but mostly basketball. She helped the Vikings to three state championships, playing an oversized role for a 5-foot-10 strong forward, becoming known for her ability to shut down players 3 or 4 inches taller. In her senior year, she scored 25 points and had 22 rebounds in the state final and averaged 15.6 points and 12.1 rebounds.

Greenberg was disappointed that she wasn't more heavily recruited, but she went to Richmond and made two appearances in the NCAA tournament in three years. When Spiders coach Stephanie Gaitely - another of her coaching mentors - moved to Saint Joseph's, she went, too, leading the Hawks to the Big 5 championship and earning Big 5 Player of the Year honors.

That's when Mallon met Drexel head coach Denise Dillon. She made an immediate impression on Dillon, then a freshman at Villanova.

"I was impressed by her drive and determination on the court," Dillon said. "She was obviously a great player, but there was something about her game that a lot of players at that age didn't have, just the work ethic for every play."

Mallon brought the same competitive drive to Dillon's staff in 2004. She had a big role in helping the Dragons reach the NCAA tournament last spring for the first time in school history. While Mallon has a part in strategy development, especially on the defensive end, she also contributes to a lot of the intangibles that make a winning team.

"I often get focused on the X's and O's and the strategy of the game," Dillon said, "and I would say what Amy does is understanding what the kids need as motivational factors. She knows the importance of being a team on and off the court. She does a great job connecting them with little drills that have nothing to do with basketball. That will carry over on to the court."

Recruiting is another key role for Mallon, who draws on the friendships she made overseas and the ones she still has in Baltimore to bring strong players into a program whose conference, the Colonial Athletic Association, doesn't draw many blue-chip players. The Dragons have players from five European countries as well as three from Baltimore.

Greenberg said with Mallon's charisma, it's no surprise she's a successful recruiter.

"She relates to all kinds of people. She just wins people over, and she's a leader and she's loyal. I don't think that's changed since high school. And there's no better competitor, so a lot of those things carry over to coaching. She's able to relate to people and lead at the same time."

When she's not coaching or on the road speaking at summer camps, Mallon continues to play summer ball in Philadelphia and plays lunchtime games a couple days a week at Drexel.

"It's hard for me not to play," Mallon said. "I wouldn't say I practice with the kids as much anymore, but every now and then Denise and [I] will do a game of our offense and we'll beat the kids. A lot of why we beat the kids now is because of experience. I don't play as much as I used to."

It's not just "the kids" she can beat. Stromberg, the St. Paul's coach, laughs when he talks about her getting on the court with him and some of his friends a couple years ago.

"I played on an outdoor court. It's all men. She showed up to play, and they're like, 'Oh, geez. There's a girl here. You have to take her on your team.' I'm like, 'I got no problem doing that.' We won like five games straight, because nobody would play her and she's really competitive."

While Mallon has played at every level, including with Ireland's national team at the European championships in 2001, she could still move up in the coaching ranks.

Last year, she turned down the head coaching job at Pennsylvania, preferring to stay at Drexel, where she said she was happy, saw more to accomplish and enjoyed her rapport with Dillon. However, if the right head coaching position opened, she said, she would take it.

"That's something I aspire to be," Mallon said. "If I didn't want to be a head coach, I don't think I would be a strong assistant coach. If you're a head coach, you want people who aspire to be head coaches in that position, because they'll work hard for you. You want them to work hard and not be complacent, but at the same time I'm very happy. It may sound picky, but for me, if you're happy, that can make up for a lot of other things."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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