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November 1, 2013

Velasquez takes another step in program

When Dave Velasquez enters Viejas Arena for San Diego State's exhibition game against CSU San Marcos on Friday night, he'll walk onto the court with a new job title as assistant coach, he'll sit down on a new seat along the bench and he'll reflect on how he first joined the program back in 2002.

Velasquez's best friend in high school was the son of then-Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery, who made a recommendation to SDSU head coach Steve Fisher.

Montgomery told Fisher that he had a young man under his wing that was still a senior in high school but spent his entire life around the game of basketball. He said that Velasquez was also a coach's son, so his passion for the game was genuine and his goal in life was to one day become a basketball coach, specifically at the collegiate level.

Fisher listened to Montgomery's pitch, and gave Velasquez a phone call shortly after to offer him a spot on the team as a student manager for San Diego State.

It was his first big break.

"It really was like the stars were aligning for me," he said. "At my first few days at practice, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was sure about what my goals really were. I knew what my dream would be.

"That timeline has really progressed from then to now, and I'm very privileged."

Velasquez, who is now officially listed as an SDSU assistant coach, said he moved his way up the coaching ladder by treating every task at hand - no matter how big or small - as a full-time job.

"I never had another job in my five years of college," he said. "I didn't get one penny as a manager. I got some practice gear, but more importantly I got the experience of being around San Diego State basketball, which to me is close to the highest level of basketball there is. I would go to class, come to the office and study game film. I would talk with the coaches and just be around the guys. If they ever needed any help, I was there."

Velasquez went from being a student manager as a freshman to serving as a head manager / walk-on player within a few months. By December 2006, he was rewarded with a scholarship for his final semester at SDSU. Two days after his graduation ceremony, he was offered a paid post-graduate assistant position from the University of Pacific, which he accepted.

But then a few weeks later Velasquez was informed that former San Diego State assistant coach Gregg Gottlieb was taking a job at Cal, and a video coordinator position would be opening up.

"I have never driven so fast to San Diego," Velasquez said with a smile. "I knew I had to go back to my alma mater. Everybody that I built relationships with at UOP understood that it had always been a dream of mine to be apart of this program."

New title, same family

Velasquez's position on SDSU's coaching staff as an assistant and everything that comes with it is new. But he's been around the program long enough to know that his title is nothing but just that - a title.

From the moment he stepped on campus as a student manager to the moment when he steps on the court as an assistant tonight, head coach Steve Fisher has always viewed Velasquez as an integral part of the program.

"Dave has worn a lot of hats around here," Fisher said. "And now he's been put into a position where he will do more than before. He is earning his spurs along the way and I feel like he is a valuable member of this staff. I hate to say, 'oh he's working with the defense today' or 'he's working with the offense today.' We are all coaches and teachers here."

Velasquez's primary objective will now be to lend his basketball knowledge to the players on the team, knowledge in which he gathered while playing under the same coaches he now works beside.

"Coach Fisher, Brian Dutcher, Justin Hutson and Mark Fisher - I used to get yelled at by these four guys when I was on the scout team," Velasquez said with a laugh. "They've been incredible to learn from. Being with Coach Dutcher for so long, he's the best recruiter around on how to create relationships, maintain relationships and make sure they are all genuine. Coach Hutson has an unbelievable ability to evaluate talent. He's an unbelievable recruiter because he cares. And Mark Fisher has always been someone to look up to because of his passion for the program.

"When you put those three together, we have a unique staff. We feed off each other like a family, and it's because of Coach (Steve) Fisher. He gives us a sense a freedom to bounce ideas off of each other. Our personalities, responsibilities and the freedom we are given help us really complement each other. It's a very special staff to work for. And it's my job to blend in with this incredible staff. I'm nowhere near their level. They are proven, they've done it at a high level and they have created a family atmosphere that I hope to continue."

Finding a niche

Any college basketball coach will tell you that recruiting at a high level is the lifeblood of sustaining a program, and Velasquez can now be apart of San Diego State's efforts to do so.

As the director of player development, Velasquez was limited to just on-campus recruiting due to NCAA rules. But since the spring evaluation period earlier this year, Velasquez - with approval from the NCAA - stepped his foot into the recruiting trail and hit the ground running.

Each of the four members in SDSU's highly regarded 2014 recruiting class mentions "Coach Dave" whenever the staff is brought up. He was even one of the first coach's four-star forward Zylan Cheatham called following his decision to commit to San Diego State.

"He was really, really happy," Cheatham said at the time. "He was ecstatic."

Velasquez has personally seen every single inch of what San Diego State has to offer, as a student and now as a coach, and it allows him to speak with recruits at a relatable angle in which most recruiters cannot.

He credits his knack for building relationships with recruits to his time back when he was a student, particularly when he was a fifth-year senior hosting SDSU recruits Billy White and Tim Shelton during their official visits.

"When recruits came to campus, I wanted them to know there was a support staff for them here," Velasquez said. "I've kept tight-knit relationships and that is so important to me because I'm still close with a lot of former players.

"Brandon Heath and I lived together for two years. Lorenzo Wade and Mohamed Camara were across the street from us. Billy White is like my little brother; D.J. Gay is one of my best friends; and Jamaal Franklin is as much of a family member as anyone I have, really. Those relationships you create off the floor are everything to this business."

Gay, who is ranked first in San Diego State's all-time list in games played, can attest to Velasquez's ability to build and carry on friendships.

"During my freshman year I was having a tough time being behind Richie Williams and fighting for minutes, but Dave was always there to encourage me," he said. "When everyone else focused on basketball, he was the guy to ask how my family was doing, how everything was back home and stuff like that.

"He's a very passionate guy, he's hungry to learn and he loves basketball just as much as anyone I have ever met. When you put all that stuff together, that is what makes up a great coach that kids want to play for."

Trust

When Coach Fisher talks about his assistants, he uses a matter-of-fact, confident tone that reflects a strong level of trust he has with every single one of them.

And although Velasquez is the newest member of the group, Fisher treats him just like he always has for the past several years.

He was given a higher status in the program with a promotion, and that's all the praise Velasquez needs.

"The special thing about Coach Fisher," he said. "Is that you get rewarded for everything he feels you deserve. He has always rewarded you at certain steps where he feels it is necessary, and when he does, it means so much more than people think.

"It's nice to know that he really trust me. Coach Fisher and the entire staff trust my thoughts on basketball, the X's and O's, the recruiting side with regards to evaluations and creating relationships, so that makes you really enjoy coming into this office every day. Not one time from when I was a manager, to when I was a player, to when I was a video guy, to now when I'm an assistant coach has it ever felt like a job. I've been so excited to be apart of this from day one. When you're in this office, or any department in this athletic center, you see this is as a family atmosphere. And that is what makes it fun."



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