Rowan mourns loss of champion coach, player

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Demetrius Poles won 62 games and two NJAC titles in just three seasons as Rowan’s head women’s basketball coach.
Photo by Larry Levanti Photography

Rowan University announced the passing of Demetrius Poles, who twice led the Profs’ women’s basketball team to the NCAA tournament as a coach and helped the Profs’ men’s team win a national championship as a player.

“Demetrius was a man of great substance. Goodness, in all ways, defined him. He was always honest, caring and kind,” said director of athletics Dr. John Giannini. “As a coach, he was passionate and highly successful. As a player, he was an extraordinary passer and made the biggest basket in Rowan history in our national championship season.”

With Giannini as head coach and Poles as the starting center, the Profs won the 1996 Division III men’s basketball championship, defeating Illinois Wesleyan in the semifinals and Hope in the title game. Rowan advanced past IWU in the national semifinals, 79-77, when Poles outmuscled a series of Titan defenders and tipped in a missed shot in the game’s closing seconds.

Watch the game-winning shot here

“They were really trying to get me out of the paint, out of the way, and I just remember seeing the ball coming, and that’s all – it was just me and the ball,” Poles recalled in the video celebrating the team’s induction into Rowan’s athletic Hall of Fame. “I knew I was getting held, getting grabbed, getting pulled, but there was no way I was going to get stopped from getting that ball, tapping the rebound.”

Gianni joked years later that he used PolesTipIn96 as his computer password in memory of that game.

Poles also enjoyed success on the hardwood in Glassboro, NJ as a high school basketball player. He was the South Jersey Player of the Year as a senior at Delsea Regional High School and then started his college basketball career at Division I St. Joseph (Pa.) in Philadelphia. After being named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference Rookie Team in 1992.

After graduating from Rowan, Poles played professionally overseas for seven years and then coached in Italy and Sweden for 10 seasons. He was named the Eurobasket Coach of the Year in 2012-13, and then came home to Glassboro to become an assistant on the Profs’ men’s basketball team.

In 2016-17, Poles shifted to the women’s basketball team and then he took over the program as the Profs’ interim head coach in September 2019. Poles led the team to its first NJAC title in 20 seasons when Rowan topped Montclair State in the 2020 conference tournament final. He was named the 2020 NJAC and Atlantic Region Coach of the Year. Despite battling illness, Poles led the Profs back to the NCAA Tournament this past season as Rowan defeated New Jersey City for the NJAC crown.

Overall, Poles went 62-22 in three seasons as the Profs’ head women’s basketball coach.

“He is loved by his teammates and friends. More than anything, Demetrius loved his family,” Gianni said in the University’s release. “We will do all we can to support them through this most difficult time.”

Poles is survived by mother Linda and stepfather Martin; wife Sandra; and sons Jelani and Jayden.

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