International golfers find success with Illini, Coach Small
June 8, 2020
Leaving home can be difficult. For a lot of people, you are saying goodbye to a place of comfort and not everybody can handle that. In sports, amateur international players, a lot of times, need to go elsewhere in order to help their future. With a great culture, this transition is easier for them. Mike Small, head coach of Illinois men’s golf, has developed just that.
“First of all, as a coach and a program, you have to understand and be cognizant of the fact that they’re a long way from home. And there are young men that may get homesick and miss their home culture … They just can’t pick up and go home for the weekend,” said Small.
He also added that great communication is key as well as the relationships built during the recruiting process.
With every great team, coach and program, there’s a solid culture in place. Winning is important, but shaping players into exceptional young men is prioritized. Small’s team is no different.
Every team in the last decade has had an international player, starting with former Illini golfer Thomas Pieters and most recently with senior Giovanni Tadiotto, sophomore Adrien Dumont De Chassart and freshman Jerry Ji. They all have nothing but great things to say about coach Small and what he has built at Illinois.
“I was impressed by the person and coach … the knowledge he had of the game … very beneficial to any golfers trying to reach their highest potential,” said Tadiotto. “Talking to him, I felt like I could learn a lot. From the start, I knew I would benefit so much from being around him.”
Ji added that coach Small has a great reputation. During his recruiting process, lots of coaches in the Netherlands had nothing but positive things to say about him and his character.
An outstanding culture is more than a great coach, it takes players to embody it and buy in. Teammate relationships were a big thing that would come up when talking about what helped them get comfortable, even though they were so far from home.
“I had my roommate, Brian (Campbell) that was helpful to get me around with everything … but someone that also helped me and I looked up to was Nick (Hardy) … Nick took me under his wing and helped me through college life … Obviously Michael (Feagles) was always helpful and Dylan (Meyer) as well … We’re a small team. So, everyone had a huge impact on each other,” said Tadiotto.
Coach Small further expanded upon the importance of team culture saying that accepting and embracing teammates is huge.
One of the most prominent examples of this happened just a couple of months ago. Because of the coronavirus, Ji and Chassart were unable to return to their homes in the Netherlands and Belgium, but sophomore Tommy Kuhl’s family welcomed them into their home to give them somewhere to go during the troubling time.
Another important factor of having so many international commitments in the last decade is the network it created. Once one is successful, others will follow. Four of the six international players were from Belgium and that counted for something.
“Probably because of Thomas Detry, when I played with him, he just told me how good coach was and how good the program was, so I didn’t really look anywhere else. I liked coach (Small) so I didn’t find any other reason to look somewhere else,” said Chassart.
Tadiotto added that he first heard of the University of Illinois when former Illini Pieters and Detry committed. Their recommendations were big to him, making it very easy for him to follow them, especially since they were the ones he looked up to.