By: Scott Day
It was a night that he'll never forget.
It was 4 a.m. and he was deep in sleep when his cell phone rang. He rustled around and mumbled a "hello?" On the other end of the conversation, he heard his father, Craig. The next few minutes forever changed the way Darren Guensch looked at life.
He learned that his 19-year-old cousin, Mark, was killed in a car
accident. Not only had he lost a family member, he had lost one of
his closest friends.
"Sitting at his funeral, all I heard was people talk about how much he trusted God and was an example of Christ," Guensch said. "It's one thing to say you know God has a plan, but it's another thing to live it."
Mark's Facebook status the night of his death read, "Livin' the Dream" because he lived his life knowing that ultimately God was in control.
Inspired by his cousin's motto, Darren trusted God more than
ever which has landed him an assistant coaching position with VCU's
women's basketball team, announced by Head Coach Beth Cunningham
"It's funny because I worked all those years knowing that I would eventually get a shot, but now that I've been given this incredible opportunity, it's tough for me to even believe," Guensch said. "I really don't think it's hit me yet, but believe me, I'm ready to roll."
It hasn't always been an easy road for the 27-year-old Guensch, but it has been a well-traveled one.
Born in Minneapolis, Minn., he made stops at Fort Lauderdale and Charlotte before finally landing in Northern Virginia. It was evident from an early age that Guensch's passion was in sports. After playing every sport known to mankind growing up, he fell in love with basketball.
"There's just something incredibly special about this game," Guensch said. "To see all five players on the same page working to the same goal, it's just awesome to see. When that happens in this game, anything can happen on any given night."
He played on the hardwood throughout his childhood and never gave up his love for the game, even after being cut in his freshman year of high school in North Carolina, or cut during his junior year at Loudon County. Nothing could take away his passion for hoops. Although his dream of playing the game was gone, he transferred his passion into becoming a student of the game.
"Of course you always want to keep playing, but I've learned so much from not getting that opportunity," Guensch said. "It was another lesson in trusting God and learning humility. It allowed me to become a total student of the game and I wouldn't change it for the world."
After four years at Radford, Guensch spent time as an intern for Push the Rock, a Christian Sports ministry based in Emmaus, Pa.
"Push the Rock was really where I truly felt moved to become a coach," Guensch said. "To work with the kids on a daily basis and be able to create all these relationships and affect people in a positive manner, it was inspiring."
From there, he wouldn't be stopped from his goal. He went back to Loudon County and took on the job of Head Coach of the freshman girls' team as well as an assistant for the Raiders' varsity squad.
"I just wanted to get as much experience as possible," Guensch said. "[LCHS Head Coach] Kevin Reed was an incredible coach to learn from and gave me my start in this field. The first practice with the freshman team was interesting because it was just me and only me, but after awhile I felt a little more comfortable and it just increased my desire to be a coach."
During the spring of 2006, he was coaching AAU basketball when he began sending out emails to several college head coaches, asking for advice for an up-and-coming young coach. One of the first ones to send back was Jim Larranaga, who was just coming off a run to the Final Four. He advised Guensch to try and work as many camps as possible to make contacts.
Guensch did exactly that and worked the Mason men's basketball camps, which landed him in contact with the women's basketball program, which just happened to have a Director of Basketball Operations position available. At age of 23, he leapt into the world of college basketball.
"I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get around college coaches," Guensch said. "It all goes back to God's plan. He continually opens up the doors and I'm blessed to get these chances."
From there, he let his work ethic and drive do the talking, taking on travel responsibilities, running camps, video exchanges and all the critical behind-the-scenes elements that the position called for with a passion.
"Darren's work ethic is second to none," former George Mason Women's Basketball Head Coach Debbie Taneyhill stated. "His passion for relationships and for the game of basketball will take him a long way in this occupation."
After spending two consecutive losing seasons with the Patriots, there was question about the job security of the staff. Then came February 17, 2008, the night of Mark's accident.
"It's something that will live with me forever," Guensch said. "At that time more than ever, I had to cling to God's plan."
Just two months after his cousin's accident, Taneyhill resigned from her position and her staff was let go, leaving Guensch to lean on his faith even more.
Not long after that, the Director of Basketball Operations position opened up at VCU and he quickly applied for the job and was hired by Cunningham after building a relationship with her through two CAA seasons.
"We were familiar with Darren's work since he was coming from another CAA school," Cunningham said. "It was exciting to be able to add someone that possesses valuable assets to our program in the Director of Ops position."
It was a complete 180-degree turn from his two years at George Mason with back-to-back postseason runs by the Black & Gold with Guensch on the sideline.
"From the first day I started at VCU, I knew it was complete different," Guensch said. "There's a way the players carried themselves that told people they were winners. It really excited me to learn as much as possible from a great coaching staff."
The work ethic and drive that he showed with the Patriots was clear to everyone in the VCU athletic department. It became rare to see Guensch's office door closed, no matter what time of day.
"The work ethic was instilled in me from a very early age," Guensch said. "My dad worked as an air traffic controller and his work ethic was incredible. It didn't matter what shift he had to work or however many days in a row he had to work or what day of the week it was, he always did whatever he had to get the job done."
His work ethic wasn't the only thing that made Guensch stand apart from the rest as he continually worked on his knowledge of the game, filling his office with books upon books on leadership, coaching and basketball. Every chance he got he was talking to both the men's and women's coaches, trying to pick their brain.
Even on vacation, he couldn't stop learning. During a week-long trip to the Outer Banks with friends, his wife Devon mentions that it was a rare sight to see Darren not reading. In a week, he read four books.
"Reading is something I've always enjoyed," Guensch said. "I want to be the best coach possible and books from coaches like John Wooden and Tony Dungy are something you can't pass up."
So when two assistant positions opened up on the women's hoops staff, Cunningham didn't have to look far to fill one of the spots.
"Darren has been an integral part of our success the last two years," Cunningham added. "I am excited to have him in a new role as an assistant coach. He has earned the respect and confidence of our staff and student-athletes and is certain to be a valuable up-and-coming young coach."
Just like his cousin Mark said, "I don't like stressin', I know God has a plan." Thankfully for VCU, that plan landed Guensch with the Rams.