Gamblin plans to bring up-tempo style to Panthers

Photo courtesy of Mount Allison Athletics
Photo courtesy of Mount Allison Athletics

By: Monty Mosher (for Atlantic University Sport)

It's been a journey for the coach's kid from Spencers Island, N.S., to becoming the head coach of the UPEI Panthers women's basketball team.

But Matt Gamblin can't wait to get started.

The 30-year-old Gamblin, marred to former Dalhousie Tigers basketball player April Scott, became the new head coach of the Panthers when Greg Gould stepped away at the end of the season. Gould led the team to the AUS final this year.

Gamblin played in the ACAA at University of King's College and Mount Saint Vincent before a knee injury ended that. He's been a head coach at the high-school level in Amherst, winning a championship there, and at Mount Allison. He spent the last five years with the Mounties and guided them into a couple national tournaments.

He's got some business to attend to before packing up in Amherst and relocating to Charlottetown. A teacher in Advocate Harbour, he has to finish the academic year and he and his wife are expecting their second child.

'The timing was pretty good'

"The job opening probably wasn't something that a lot of people saw coming, but as soon as I saw it I applied," said Gamblin.

"As soon as I got the opportunity at Mount A I realized pretty quick that (coaching) was something I'd like to do full time. I definitely had my eye on different jobs that were coming up. The timing was pretty good."

UPEI athletic director Chris Huggan said Gamblin's love of basketball "is as great as anyone I know."

"He is a highly professional and principled young man with a great work ethic and a proven ability to lead university-aged women to successes both on and off the court," Huggan said.  "He is humble and extremely driven.  He is a great fit as the new head coach of our women's basketball team. I believe under his leadership we will be a contender for AUS and U Sports championships for years to come."

Gamblin becomes the second young hire in recent weeks in the conference. Lee Anna Osei, who will take over from Augy Jones at St. Francis Xavier, is 28.

"It's the challenge, for sure," Gamblin said of the attraction to becoming a head coach in Canadian university sport. "As a full-time coach, you are sort of immersed in it more and that's something I'm definitely interested in.

"Being able to go out and recruit the best players in the county and look abroad, too, is interesting. The recruiting process, the whole program building, it all appeals to me."

Rigby a big loss

The first job for Gamblin was to meet with his players at Mount A. He wanted them to know he was leaving before the news went public.

But now the focus becomes getting to know his players at UPEI. The Panthers lose Kiera Rigby, a five-year player who won awards for her contributions on and off the court, but the rest of the team can return.

"Kiera is a huge loss, but the core is back," said Gamblin. "It's a matter of introducing myself to them and connecting with them."

Gould has helped in the process.

"He's been great," said Gamblin. "I've gotten to know him over the last two or three years, just recruiting in the same gyms and that sort of thing, and he's been really good to me. There's been dialogue with Greg about the whole situation."

UPEI, without a conference title since 1998, had some lean years until Gould got things pointed in the right direction. The team went 11-9 last year but knocked off UNB and Cape Breton before falling to Acadia at the Final 6 in Halifax.

Up-tempo style

Gamblin expects some residue from that defeat. The players had to watch at the bench as the Axewomen players celebrated their victory.

"I expect that, for sure," he said. "They got right to the final game, so that should be a motivating factor."

Recruiting for next season was well in hand before he got the job. He said he's always recruiting anyway, so there could be a few surprises ahead.

What he knows is that the 2018-19 Panthers had better be ready to run the court for 40 minutes.

"In the college ranks, we played a very high-tempo system," he said. "That's the way I like to play. I like to get up and pressure people and make people uncomfortable – try to disrupt what they are trying to do.

"Then it is playing to your strengths, whatever they are. You've got to play through your best players and figure out the right system for you. I'm flexible on that end, but from a defensive point of view it is very fundamental. You've just got to go get after it."

As the son of a career coach and physical education teacher, Gamblin doesn't like to stray from his comfort zone. He's eager to get to work with his new team.

"I've been in the gym my whole life," he said.