From Texas to Denmark to Maine, every stop of LSE grad Jai Steadman’s coaching journey involves lessons learned from his Nebraska roots | Boys Basketball

When Jai Steadman first started his coaching career, he never dreamed his journey would take him all over the country and even overseas.

In the words of Johnny Cash, he’s been everywhere, man.

The current interim men’s basketball head coach at Division I Maine, Steadman’s Lincoln roots have defined his coaching philosophy ever since it began. A 1989 graduate from Lincoln Southeast, Steadman has fond memories of playing football and basketball for the Knights, and the lessons he learned from former Southeast coach Denny Puelz helped him learn what an empathetic coach looks like.

“He really cared about us off the court, and that’s one thing I took into my coaching career,” Steadman said. “I went through a lot of stuff in high school and Coach Puelz was always there for me, so that just stuck with me.”

However, Steadman didn’t necessarily know that his future was in coaching basketball until another legendary Southeast coach, Jeff Smith, persuaded him to become a student manager at Nebraska. While Steadman’s time with the Huskers started with him holding towels and setting up equipment for practice, he soon became a student assistant who gleaned lessons from Nebraska’s assistant coaches.

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When Steadman sat in the office of assistant coach Jimmy Williams or head coach Danny Nee and watched them recruit high-level players to Nebraska, he finally knew that was his calling as a coach.

“I got to sit in their (offices) and see how they recruited, and I knew that was my fix; I wanted to be one of those guys and recruit,” Steadman said. “It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.”

After six years with the Huskers, Nee told Steadman it was time to gain experience in the junior college ranks and it was only then that Steadman’s coaching journey began to take him all over the country. As is the case with any entry-level coaching jobs, it was truly a grind for Steadman to build up his coaching experience.

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His first stop at Tyler Junior College in Texas involved teaching physical education courses, refereeing on the weekends and living in the dorms just to make ends meet. From there, every single one of Steadman’s different roles helped him gain experience in the coaching world.

Steadman coached prep basketball in Arizona, a professional basketball team in Denmark and also spent three years in the NBA’s G-League system. While there, he worked alongside current Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, with those lessons of pure X’s and O’s showing him a different side of coaching.

However, the college ranks are where Steadman has always been the most comfortable. His coaching stops in college basketball include TCU, McNeese State, North Texas, Bellevue University, Louisiana-Lafayette, Texas-Rio Grande Valley and now Maine.

Not even a battle with sepsis that threatened his life could dissuade Steadman from pursuing his passion for coaching.

“College basketball has always kind of drawn me back to recruiting, being around the guys and building relationships,” Steadman said. “You know, I’m from Lincoln, Nebraska, and I’ve been to every state, I’ve been overseas, and it’s funny how you came from the Midwest, but I’ve been blessed to recruit out of all the major cities.”

While he’s been an assistant coach for the majority of his coaching, Steadman’s last two stops have included the additional responsibilities of becoming an interim journey head coach. At UT-Rio Grand Valley, it was under difficult circumstances when his close friend Lou Hill passed away midseason and Steadman had to step up to ensure the team could finish its season.

After moving to Maine for the current 2021-22 season, Steadman again found himself with an unexpected head coaching position when the Black Bears parted ways with head coach Richard Barron after a 5-20 start. With a win over NJIT and a spirited loss to Albany in his first two games in charge of the program, there’s no doubt Steadman is making the most of his opportunity.

“It’s calm for me because I just want the kids to play hard and they’ve done that,” Steadman said. “Everybody’s seen the change right away — the smiles, the passion and just playing basketball.”

No matter where the rest of Steadman’s coaching career leads him, the lessons he learned at Lincoln Southeast and Nebraska continue to guide him to this day. And in every coaching stop he’s made, Steadman makes sure everyone knows that he’s a Nebraskan to his core.

“I love Lincoln; Nebraska’s always been my home and everyone knows I’m the crazy Husker fan no matter where I go,” Steadman said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or at LMullin@journalstar.com. On Twitter @lmullin7

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