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Gene Banks, Dereck Whittenburg, Phil Ford

Left-to-Right: Dereck Whittenburg, Phil Ford, Gene Banks; Source: Cindy Bailey/Radio One

Whether it’s the poster autographed by Mike Krzyzewski in Athletic Director Gene Banks’ room or Leonard Hamilton’s name appearing on Coach Dickey Nutt’s phone, it’s easy to see Gaston College strives to bring an ACC influence to junior college athletics.

Following a 50-year hiatus, Gaston College will bring sports back to its institution in the form of men’s basketball, baseball, women’s beach volleyball, softball, and cross country during the 2021-22 school year.

On a day where the school had a block party to celebrate not only the return of athletics, but the return of its students to campus, both Banks and Nutt sat down with WFNZ’s Will Palaszczuk to discuss the college’s new undertaking.

Banks, the former Duke Blue Devil and second-round NBA Draft Pick, came on board earlier this year to shepherd Gaston College’s Athletic Department as the school’s first AD in a half-century. “I looked at the situation, [School President] Dr. [John] Howser has a great, great plan,” Banks said. “I’m proud to be a part of this, I really am.”

The plan comes with many challenges according to Banks, but the biggest obligation is to make sure the student-athlete has the best experience at the college. “You have to make sure when they come here, their families aren’t worried about them here,” Banks added.

The first two Head Coaches under Banks’ reign come with great experience in college athletics, as Nutt coached at the Division I level with both Arkansas State and Southeast Missouri State. New baseball coach Shohn Doty has stops at both Charlotte and Old Dominion as a pitching coach, including the latter where he recruited perennial All-Star Justin Verlander.

Nutt, who also served as a video coordinator under Gaston College alum Hamilton at Florida State, says he’s humbled to be back at the end of a bench for the first time in six years. “The single most important thing that I’ve learned is that young people want a relationship and sometimes you neglect that part of it,” Nutt said. He also leaned on Hamilton’s influence on him, saying, “I told Leonard Hamilton every day that if I had the opportunity to be a head coach again I would be much better today because of what I learned from him at later age.”

Southeast Missouri State Redhawks v Arkansas Razorbacks

Gaston College Head Coach Dickey Nutt (FILE) Source: Wesley Hitt / Getty

Nutt served under Hamilton as well at Oklahoma State, his own alma mater, and said he feels a special kinship coaching at Hamilton’s alma mater. The connection between the two is easy to see, as Hamilton called Nutt on his cell phone during his interview with WFNZ.

Banks, who said he will relinquish the AD role to Nutt in order take an advisory role to Dr. Houser, added the influences and partnerships from his time in the ACC at Duke will endure to fuel the athletic program’s upstart.

He said that one thing he’ll continue to oversee is the development of a new coliseum to house athletics on campus.

“We’ll have to crawl before walk, until we get that thing up in the next 2-3 years, we’re going to have to reach out to the community and have the community embrace us,” Banks confessed. “We’ll be playing different venues until we have our home base.”

Gaston College will play under the nickname, “Rhinos”, in Region 10 of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Banks said he hopes to develop a rivalry with nearby Catawba Valley Community College in nearby Hickory.

To hear Will Palaszczuk’s full conversations with Gene Banks and Dickey Nutt, click below: