For Omar Sanchez ’02, MA ’09, head men’s basketball coach, serving others centers on helping HNU student-athletes shift focus. Instead of peering at their lives, in his words, through the “big end of the telescope,” he encourages them to view it through a microscope.
Here’s what he means. Young student-athletes often share glittering visions of their future, from going pro to making it big in business. What’s missing? Any mention of how they’ll turn lofty goals into reality. Sanchez calls it living in “La La Land.”
“I try to get them to live in the microscope—to see that the action steps they take help them achieve their big-picture aspirations,” Sanchez explained.
A self-described science nerd—his wife teases that he reads anatomy books for fun—he earned certification and became HNU’s strength and conditioning coach shortly after earning his bachelor’s in biology. It’s a role he’s maintained for 17 years while earning a master’s in education and building his coaching and administrator credentials through a series of HNU positions. Those positions included years as head assistant basketball coach and five years as associate athletic director. Highlights include: coaching his team to win three conference titles and seven tournament conference titles, as well as developing eight of 10 all-time top scorers.
“I promise my players two things: They’re going to graduate and they’re going to be in the best shape of their life,” he says.
He also strives to equip his players with something longer-lasting: a healthy sense of who they are and who they are meant to become.
Given Sanchez’s roots as the first in his family to attend college, he understands the value of recognizing and nurturing one’s inner prompts and character.
“I’m a first-generation kid,” he said, adding that he was born in Compton and grew up in Watts. “I recruit a lot of inner-city kids; I feel that’s the purpose God has for me. When I get those kids, it’s my job to help them find their identity, not so much what those places they come from tell them their identity is.”
His training toolkit also exposes players to community service. Volunteering for Oakland organizations, from schools to Children’s Hospital Oakland gives student-athletes a valuable perspective on their personal challenges, Sanchez explained.
His own college career started with scholarships to play volleyball and basketball for the University of California Davis, but a major knee injury quickly ended that trajectory. Becoming a UCD student team manager instead, he gained priceless coaching insights.
Sanchez admired then-UCD coach Bob Williams, who later achieved an all-time wins record at UC-Santa Barbara. “The way he managed and gave purpose to his staff, to me was such an important piece,” Sanchez reflected. “Seeing that, I make sure my staff understand my vision—but understand their purpose within my vision—know what to do, and execute the game plan with our players.”
Recruited later as a transfer student-athlete to HNU, Sanchez acknowledges he soon “fell in love with the Sisters” and the values they embody. Nearly 20 years on, his HNU ardor has not dimmed.
“This is a platform that God has put me in,” he says. “I’m a transformative leader now; I challenge people that I serve to get out of their own way so they can become who they want to be.”