Q&A with new head coach of men’s tennis Justin DeSanto
Former head coach of Division I men’s tennis at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Justin DeSanto, joins the Dartmouth community as head coach of men’s tennis.
Courtesy of Kyle Relf
After former men’s tennis head coach Xander Centenari stepped down last month, Justin DeSanto joins the Big Green as the new John Kenfield and Chuck Kinyon Head Coach of men’s tennis. DeSanto brings a decade of collegiate coaching experience, including his past two years of Division I head coaching experience at the University of Alabama Birmingham, where he brought the program to their first year-end Intercollegiate Tennis Association ranking to no. 70. The Dartmouth sat down with DeSanto to discuss his experiences with collegiate tennis coaching and his goals for men’s tennis.
What is your past coaching and collegiate tennis experience?
JD: I actually started playing tennis late, at 17. I really fell in love with it and started coaching youth clinics when I was 19 and coached high school while I was in college. When I graduated college, I started coaching the collegiate Division III women’s team at Marywood University. At the time, I thought DIII might be the furthest I could take it, since I started tennis late. I found a lot of success when I transitioned from a high school coach to a DIII coach. A lot of people helped me get into the Division I game, and I volunteered for the women’s team at Yale University at 23 years old. From Yale, I was able to get another DIII job at Williams College where we were able to win the national championship. That job gave me a lot of different coaches to learn from, and made me a good candidate for the DI men’s assistant coach at Wichita State University. We got our program ranked 29th in the country. That led to me getting my first Division I head coaching job at University of Alabama at Birmingham. I’ve been there for the past two years and was able to bring the program ranking from 181st to 70th this year. That brings me to getting interest from Dartmouth.
What drew you to Dartmouth?
JD: I’ve always been drawn to the top-notch academics, since tennis pulls in a lot of top academic recruits. I saw that as a big benefit when I worked at Yale and Williams and it will be something I’ll see at Dartmouth. I’m also very familiar with Dartmouth’s past coaches and players, and they’ve had a very successful history here. So that was very appealing for me to come in and use the Dartmouth name and the pedigree to be able to make it to the NCAA tournaments.
While you were head coach for the past two seasons of UAB, the team saw a 21-7 season and moved from 181st to 70th ITA ranking. You saw the national championship win at Williams College and as the Wichita State assistant coach, you helped the team rise to no. 29 in the ITA rankings. How do you plan to bring that success to the Ivy League Conference?
JD: It’s going to be a good mix of recruiting and player development. I have a lot of experience recruiting Americans and a lot of international players from my time at other top h academic universities, and I’m going to take a similar approach to bring in top Americans, while also mixing in great international players to keep us competitive with some of the top programs at other schools. The second piece is really focusing on development. When I was an assistant coach, recruiting stood out the most, but in my first time head coaching at UAB, what stood out then was player development. I put a lot of extra time on the court with the guys and came up with really good player development plans that would fit the needs of our guys, such as the type of strategy they need to be playing on the court. Having them understand their games was a big part of pushing the player development at UAB, and I plan to bring that to Dartmouth as well.
What are the most important characteristics you hope to bring out in your players and recruits?
JD: This goes along with my coaching philosophy, but I am really hard on ownership and accountability. I like my players and recruits to understand what those words mean to me — which is having a team that will hold each other accountable and work as a team — since tennis can be a very individual sport. So I’d like to see the guidance, being able to pull each other up when a teammate is having a bad day or a bad practice and hold each other accountable, but also hold themselves accountable to the standard that we set forth at Dartmouth. The other piece is taking ownership. When you don't meet that standard, I want you to realize it and own it for your teammates or your coaches who are trying to hold you accountable. It’s going to be those kids that really embrace the ownership and accountability that we look for in our program. Recruits are going to be those that have a true love for tennis, but also meet the academic rigor that Dartmouth requires to deal with the time management.
Do you have any particular coaching role models that you look to as you coach?
JD: I would say I have mentors rather than role models.I have some great mentors that have helped me along my path, especially since I came from a non-traditional background, started tennis late and didn’t play in college. My biggest mentor is Adam Schaechterle, Pepperdine University’s head coach. There is no chance I would be where I am today without his help. He’s always pushed me to try the next job and told me I had what it took to get my first job as a DIII assistant at Marywood University. Dan Greenberg of Williams College has always been someone that supports me no matter what but also plays devil’s advocate; when I see things one way, he helps me think through them in a different way. So I have and will always admire the way those two have shaped my career.
What are you most excited about as you begin to take the helm of the Big Green men’s tennis team?
JD: I’m really excited about the community aspect. I think back to my time at Williams College, which is in a very similar small town with a very tight-knit athletic department. I’m already seeing that at Dartmouth. All of the people that were at my interview were super pumped up and excited about Dartmouth Athletics.I’ve been able to meet some of the donors and all the players and everybody just works very hard towards a similar goal in the athletic department. I really look forward to being in a smaller, tight-knit community that has a lot of support.