Amy Mallon was instrumental as an undersized, 5-foot-9 power forward in propelling the Mount Hebron girls basketball program to Class 2A state championships in 1986, 1987 and 1988. But before that first run to the title, she was the target of Dave Greenberg’s ire, which resulted in the head coach kicking his then-sophomore standout out of the school’s gym.
“Amy’s a tough kid,” recalled Greenberg, who left Hilton Head High School in South Carolina after the 2014-15 season. “She was angry. She probably hated me, I don’t know. But she came back [the next day] and just played hard and worked hard. She responded the right way. Initially, she was angry, but she came back and worked hard, and I never had to throw her out of the gym again.”
Mallon, who eventually developed into an All-Metro player for the Vikings and the Big 5 Player of the Year as a senior at Saint Joseph’s, smiled when reminded of that episode.
“I wasn’t getting the job done, I wasn’t working hard enough,” she said. “He kicked me out of the gym, and you look back on that now, and it’s the best thing he ever did. He was right. I wasn’t working hard enough, and those are the things you remember when you tell your team, ‘Hey, inside the lines, we’re going to make you uncomfortable. You’ve got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ And I feel like the biggest way you can do that is making the players accountable, making them responsible, and being OK with pushing them a little bit. When you’re talking about influences or times in my career, that was a memorable one, for sure.”
Mallon, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Mount Hebron and Howard County, was introduced Wednesday as Drexel’s women’s basketball coach, the sixth in the program’s NCAA Division I history. An assistant coach with the Dragons since 2004 and the associate head coach since 2007, Mallon succeeds Denise Dillon, who was announced Friday as Villanova’s coach.
Mallon, who was a head coach at Rosemont College (Pa.) for one season in 1994-95, quipped that she’s been interviewing for the opportunity for 16 years.
“I always said that my first [Division I] head job has to be the right job, and I believe this is the right job,” she said.
Drexel athletic director Eric Zillmer called Mallon “the perfect candidate for the job.”
“When I was a little younger, I would have many lunch ball games in the DAC [Daskalakis Athletic Center] with her. So I’ve seen firsthand that she’s very difficult to defend,” he said. “She’s been with us for 16 years, and we’re beyond excited to have her remain a Dragon in the role of head women’s basketball coach.”
Mallon’s roots as a coach were evident to her mentors at Mount Hebron. Former assistant coach and current McDonogh head coach Brad Rees said the staff trusted Mallon to communicate Greenberg’s intentions to her teammates.
“She always had the on-court presence to where she was essentially a coach for us on the floor as a player,” Rees said. “She understood the game, understood what the coach wanted the team to do, and was able to execute. So I was never surprised at all that she got into coaching. She still has such a great demeanor with it, too. She has that fire and competitiveness, but she’s also so rational about her expectations and communication with the kids. It’s fun to watch her with the kids now.”
Stephanie Gaitley, who coached Mallon for three years at Richmond and then one season at St. Joseph’s, called Mallon one of the smartest players she had ever coached.
“She just has the DNA of a basketball coach with the way she played,” said Gaitley, who now helms Fordham. “For me as a coach, there’s not more than two or three players that have a great IQ every year on your team. Amy was one of them. So those kids with the high IQs, you’re not surprised with the road they take.”
Drexel has won at least 20 games in five of the past six seasons, including this past winter when the squad went 23-7 overall and 16-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association for a share of the conference’s regular-season crown – the program’s third since Mallon joined the staff. Dillon shared the league’s Coach of the Year award with William & Mary’s Ed Swanson for her fourth such honor.
Mallon, who has concentrated on sharpening the team’s defense during her tenure, said she doesn’t intend to make any drastic changes.
“For me, I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “I think we’ve established something that’s pretty strong. I think it’s about changing and changing with the type of players, but also our main thing is competing. We think we’re good enough to compete, can continue to do that, and be recognized at a national level for what we’re able to do.”
Greenberg said Mallon’s familiarity with the players and vice versa will be a significant advantage in her transition. He said her biggest adjustment will be representing the program.
“The interesting thing is, she’s now the person,” he said. “So if somebody’s pissed off, she’s the one who’s got to deal with it, and that’s a tough thing. When you have 50 people come up to you thanking you and telling you how great you are but one comes up and complains about how unfair you were, that one sticks with you, and it’s hard to get rid of that feeling. When you’re the head person, it’s on your shoulders. It all comes back to you.”
Mallon understands that many eyes will be on her as she attempts to put her stamp on the Dragons. And she said she welcomes the scrutiny.
“I feel like that pressure is what drives you,” she said. “I feel like yes, the pressure will be there, but that’s almost what drives you to continue to work towards those goals. It’s what competing in sports is all about.”
Former Mount Hebron assistant coach Jim Stromberg said Mallon is well-equipped to handle high expectations.
“I think she’s looking forward to the chance,” said Stromberg, who coaches Catholic. “We’ve talked the last few years. … I think over the years, she’s always thought about it, but certainly being at Drexel and working with Denise, there was a great partnership between them, which made it a really positive experience. So I think she’s made for this. She’s competitive, and her kids will see that, that she’s got a competitive nature. I think that will come across with her teams.”