The Owls athletics program is constantly growing. With the 2018-19 season swiftly approaching, The W has added six more sports to athletic offerings: men’s cross country, men’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s basketball. Last of the new additions and hires were men’s and women’s basketball. Meet the coaches who will push the next wave of Owls athletics.
Brian Merkel has a general love for sports both leisurely and professional. When he is not motivating his team on the sideline or pushing them in the weight room, he is an amateur golfer and a sports consumer. “I enjoy playing golf.
That’s probably my biggest hobby,” said Merkel. “I wish I was better but I’m getting there.”
His interest in basketball was sparked at an early age. In the first grade while living in Michigan, Merkel attended a youth camp hosted by the Detroit Pistons. “Didn’t really know much about the game,” said Merkel, “but I really loved and enjoyed it. It was my first introduction to basketball.”
From that very first camp in Michigan, a small seed was planted and it was nurtured despite a move to Louisiana. There, Merkel attended camps at the local high school and he discovered that he not only enjoyed playing basketball, but he was actually pretty good at it. “The camps were one of the things that all of my friends went to and we had a really good time,” said Merkel. “It was something to do, especially during the summer when there wasn’t much else to do.”
Going into high school, Merkel’s ultimate career goal was becoming a high school coach. “It was one of those things where I knew I was good enough to play in college, but that was about it, I wanted to stay in the game,” explained Merkel.
After graduating high school and attending college, his head coach at Millsaps continued to foster his desire to coach but steered his focus to the college level. “I really enjoyed the age you are in college and the relationships you can develop with your players as a college coach,” explained Merkel.
He got his first big break as a college coach when he joined the men’s basketball staff at Hendrix College, a NCAA Division III institutions. Merkel spent five seasons as the Warriors assistant coach and helped lead the team to the finals of the Southern Athletic Association Tournament twice, claiming the 2015 championship title for a NCAA Tournament bid. “We had struggled all year and we beat Rhodes [the number one team] at Rhodes in the championship and it was the best game I had ever been a part of in basketball,” said Merkel. “It was awesome, the celebration and to see all of your hard work pay off. I was unable to make it to the NCAA tournament as a player, but being there as a coach was amazing.”
Now in Columbus and instituting the first men’s basketball program at The W, Merkel looks to bring that same positive and winning attitude to his program and the community. “I want Columbus and The W community to know that our program is going to do things the right way,” explained Merkel. “When fans show up at our games, they are going to see a team that plays with relentless energy and passion while playing selflessly and for each other. I can’t wait for
November to roll around. It is going to be an exciting time to have men’s basketball at The W.”
An avid shopper and furniture restorer, Howard White is fueled by the need for change and making something old new again. Looking at the great academics of The W, the beautiful campus and the winning tradition of the women’s basketball program, White was drawn to the possibility of restarting a program with so much history.
White’s earliest memory of the game was cheering on Julius “Dr. J” Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers in middle school. He found his love for competition at the local park, competing against other neighborhood kids. “That was our thing after school, to go play basketball in the park,” explained White. “That was where I first developed a love for the game. How it could be so competitive with our five guys against their five guys.”
The love of basketball followed him through high school as he played for the varsity team. As a player, White was a standout in his hometown at Wilmot High School. He served as the team captain and led the team in scoring his senior year.
He wanted to play in college, but circumstances halted his dream. After receiving his degree, he began work at a junior college and was able to get back involved with basketball by keeping the book for the team during games.
As bookkeeper, his talent of understanding plays and providing insight on improving the game set White on the path to coaching. “I would always talk with the coaches after the game and we would talk about strategy and what we should do differently in the next ball game,” said White. “I remember talking basketball with the Tallahassee men’s coach and he told me I should really think about getting into coaching because I had a really good basketball mind.”
Now after over a decade in the coaching field and two national titles as the women’s basketball head coach at Concordia College – Alabama, his players are his motivation, game-to-game and season-to-season. “I like to see them win and how excited they get when they win big games and play well,” explained White.
As he continues in his career White lives by the advice, “Always be humble in this game. Never feel like you're bigger than the game. Never chase money. Be happy.”