The basketball coaching bug first bit Dana Beszczynski while he was a 19-year-old student at Erie Community College in Buffalo, N.Y.
Now 28, the Hammond High assistant coach still burns with a desire to be the best basketball coach he can be.
He's not shy about going to the top for advice. When he was having problems motivating the Bears to play together, he once called Indiana coach Bobby Knight.
"It was just something I did out of the blue,'" he said. "He was very nice to me. We had an hourlong conversation, and he told me to sublimate egos and use the five players who will play hard and work together as a team -- even if other players are blue-chippers."
After spending one semester as a player, Beszczynski was given a chance to be an assistant coach at Erie.
"I had a terrific coaching experience there," he said.
Erie, composed mainly of inner-city athletes, was a powerhouse. During the years Beszczynski coached there the team was 96-15.
That experience made him forget what always had been his No. 1 sport, soccer. He was the goalkeeper on an Erie team that went 22-4 and was ranked fifth in the nation.
"Our head coach at Erie, Don Silveri, was a fiery coach and our assistant coach, Nick Moore, was cocky," he said. "I think I learned both those traits from them. My approach is that you're going to win no matter what."
He came to Maryland because his fiancee got a teaching job here. The relationship eventually ended, but he liked the area and decided to stay.
In 1987 he worked for a year as assistant coach to Bill Franklin at Bowie State. Finally, he went back to school at Maryland and was out of coaching for a few years.
"Being away from basketball drove me crazy," he said.
In 1991 he got the junior varsity coaching job at Hammond.
"I was the second choice, but I didn't let pride stop me from taking it," he said. "I regarded it as my big break, and I put everything I had into it."
Even as he coached the junior varsity he served as a varsity assistant, so that he could learn as much as possible as quickly as possible.
"I'd leave the JV game and rush over to the varsity game," he said.
This season was the first he didn't coach JV, and he has enjoyed his extra time before games.
Hammond varsity head coach Jack Burke gives Beszczynski a lot of leeway.
Beszczynski is the hands-on coach during practices, diagrams plays and selects the subs during games. Always dressed in a tie, white shirt and suit, outsiders sometimes mistake him for the head coach.
"He's the perfect assistant coach," Burke said. "He's single, enthusiastic, loves to scout and will do the hard work required to be a good basketball mind."
Beszczynski's scouting reports run 12 to 15 pages on each opposing team and detail each opposing player's strengths and weaknesses. They include diagrams of plays that should work against those teams, as well as plays those teams like to run.
"We don't expect the kids to memorize the scouting reports but we hope they'll at least read them and that some of it will rub off on them," Beszczynski said. "You have to realize that these are just kids and you can only push them so far."
Beszczynski appreciates the opportunity that Burke has given him to grow as a coach. "We argue sometimes but I think that's healthy," he said.
"I don't coach for money. I love the excitement, I love the learning and I love working with the kids," Beszczynski said. "Coaching is not pressure for me. When we were down by one point with 12 seconds left against Centennial this year, I loved that situation and being able to diagram a play."
He rightfully can be described as a basketball junkie. He eats, drinks and sleeps basketball during the four-month season.
When teams were unable to play or practice for two weeks straight this season, he spent his free time watching tapes of NCAA tournament games hoping to learn something.
Although the young Hammond team didn't make the regional playoffs this season, Beszczynski, who teaches at Deep Run Elementary, had scouted four possible opposing teams just in case.
His ultimate goal is to become a coach at the Division I college level.