For DePaul legend Mark Aguirre, it’s a matter of degree

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Mark Aguirre had heard it before. The once DePaul star and two-time NBA champion heard it all the time when he was an assistant coach for the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.

“You should become a head coach one day.”

Aguirre brushed off the advice and his life went on. After leaving the Knicks, his focus shifted from the professional game to college. Currently, Aguirre occasionally serves as a mentor to DePaul’s basketball program, helping the big men on the team improve on fundamentals.

In the fall, Aguirre decided he wanted to get his degree with one particular area in mind. It was time he listened to what people had been telling him for years.

Aguirre finally wants to become a head coach.

“I think all my life I kind of shied away from it,” Aguirre said. “But I’ve taught a number of NBA All-Stars, been an assistant GM, coached on three NBA teams and had really good success. I’ve been avoiding it for too long.”

“Now, I really am in a comfortable place to take time to get there,” he said.

To become a head coach in college basketball, one must have a degree to get hired. Aguirre, who played for DePaul’s basketball team from 1978 to 1981, chose to forego his senior season and was selected as the number one pick in the 1981 draft by the Dallas Mavericks, leaving him without a degree.

To fix that, Aguirre is now enrolled in online courses at DePaul and is focused on getting his degree in sports management. He lives in Dallas and has a heavy travel schedule, which makes taking courses online more convenient for him.

However, why even bother getting his degree and becoming a college coach? He has plenty of experience to try and be a head coach in the NBA. Why is Aguirre focusing on becoming a head coach in college basketball?

Aguirre says that his ability and drive to help shape young men’s lives makes coaching college a better fit for him.

“I’m a teacher first of all,” Aguirre said. “The guys I’ve gotten out of college, the kids I had – the David Lees and the Jermaine O’Neals – were raw because they were one-and-dones. I actually turned them into pretty good pros over a couple of years. To be able to implement that as a kid comes out of high school, I think I can make them a lot better of a player early.”

Aguirre’s coaching philosophy would be along those lines, he said. He wants to make sure his student-athletes know that college basketball is not a sprint. Aguirre said it’s important for athletes to understand their responsibilities and improve along the way.

This season, he’s done that with DePaul. While he’s not officially an assistant coach, Aguirre provides a mentorship role to the team’s big men. He’s worked on stressing the fundamentals and making sure they do the right things.

“I kind of watch them and helping the coach deliver what the foundation should be,” Aguirre said. “It’s all about the mindset and understanding how to get better … I really focus on how to approach getting better from day-to-day. When you approach the game from day-to-day, you have to have a level of energy you approach it with day in and day out. You want to make sure it becomes your norm.”

The former DePaul star said he acquired that sort of vision from multiple people throughout his career, such as former Pistons’ point guard and Knicks president Isiah Thomas, former Pacers’ GM Donnie Walsh and his former head coach Ray Meyer. It all started with Meyer.

“I made it my point to understand what (my coaches) wanted and what they were doing,” he said. “When I was here with Coach Meyer, he would talk to me more as an assistant about what was going on and why it was. From day one, I was groomed to understand everybody’s position and why it works.”

Aguirre said he should graduate by the fall of 2014. It’s a matter of making sure the courses he has to take are available with his schedule. Some courses aren’t available certain quarters online, which might delay the process.

Regardless, Aguirre is setting out to begin a new chapter in his life.

“At one point, you’ve got to listen to all those people behind you,” Aguirre said. “I’ve got some great experience behind me so I think it would be wrong to not pursuit it.”