April 19, 2024 

Candice Hill returns home to UMBC

Hill looks to rebuild the Retrievers' program and compete for championships

UMBC head coach and Baltimore native Candice Hill (née Walker) is looking forward to the day she walks out of the tunnel and sees the faces of her friends and family in the crowd, just like she watched St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella do for the past three seasons in her various roles on his coaching staff. Hill was announced as UMBC’s head coach on April 15, her first head coaching position. She’s familiar with the program, as her basketball journey started at a UMBC basketball camp her dad signed her up for. Years later, he sat in the audience as she was introduced as the 11th head coach of the program.

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“I think my mom probably almost fainted, she was so excited,” Hill told The Next, recalling the moment she told her parents about the job. “… [My family are] basketball fanatics; as a player, they came to every game. And if they couldn’t come, they watched it on TV or streamed it.”

“And they’ve done the same for me as a coach too. They get out and support at my games. And if I’m local, they come to the games. So to be back home, like for them too — they’re ecstatic, because they get to be a part of this, just like they were when I was in college. So for them, it’s a blessing.”

Hill played at Loyola University Maryland from 2007–13 and was the first rookie to start for the team at point guard since the 1991–92 season. Being a vocal leader is Hill’s biggest takeaway from her time as a point guard on the court to being a coach on the sideline.

“I’m very vocal, I’m very passionate,” Hill said. “I was passionate as a player and I worked hard as a player. I think I work harder now [that] I’m a coach, but I definitely worked hard. So taking away that and really just continuing those traits and continuing to work hard and try to get to the top of everything, winning championships and competing at a high level. I think I’ve done that as a player and I’m going to continue to do that as a [head] coach.”

Previous coaching stops

Hill’s coaching career started as an assistant coach at Division II Wilmington University in 2013 after she graduated with her master’s degree in liberal studies from Loyola. She then spent five years at UMass, including one season as the program’s director of operations. As an assistant coach (2016–20), she helped UMass go from nine wins in 2016–17 to the Minutewomen’s first 20-win season in nearly 25 years in 2019–20. Hill then spent one year as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at her alma mater before most recently spending three seasons at St. John’s.

After one year as the Red Storm’s assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, she was elevated to associate head coach and recruiting coordinator after the 2021–22 season. Hill was a part of two postseason appearances in three seasons at St. John’s, the team’s first NCAA appearance since 2016 last season and a berth in the inaugural WBIT in 2024.

Over the course of her career, Hill has already been recognized for her accomplishments. She attended the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s (WBCA) “So You Want To Be A Coach” program, was named to the WBCA’s “Thirty Under 30” list in 2019 and was selected to participate in the WBCA’s Next Generation Institute

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Her path to UMBC

“We are delighted to bring Candice to UMBC to lead our women’s basketball program,” UMBC president Valerie Sheares Ashby stated in the press release issued by UMBC. “Her approach to leadership, her coaching philosophy and her values will help ensure the success of and support for our student-athletes, both on and off the court.”

Hill spoke to Sheares Ashby twice before being formally announced as head coach and appreciated the time the president took to have real conversations with her, discussing her vision for the university and the women’s basketball program.

“She’s been at places like North Carolina, and Duke that put academics and athletics first. I knew I would have the support and my program would have the support,” Hill said.

Hill wanted to feel supported in her first head coaching job and believes that at UMBC she has not only the support of the administration, but the community as well. She was overwhelmed with joy when her appointment was announced and knows the support will continue and people will soon fill the seats at Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena.

“I know that we’re going to be able to fundraise and raise money for the program,” she said. “I just know we’re going to have the support and those relationships with people in the community for our program and our university to be successful.”

Hill takes over a UMBC team that was 10–19 (6–10, America East) last season and has not made the postseason since the 2016–17 season when it lost to Brown in the first round of the WBI. She believes the program is a “sleeping giant” with “elite” facilities. She defines success for the first years of her tenure as creating a great experience for student-athletes and building relationships with the staff — but winning is high on her priority list as well.

“My goal coming here is to rebuild. And to compete for championships,” she said. “… I want to be able to allow our girls to experience playing in the postseason. As a coach, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. At St. John’s, I was actually able to be a part of that. And I learned what it took to get to that level. And so that’s what I want our girls to be able to experience.”

Having coached against teams in the America East, she knows it’s a conference with great leaders and proven winners. At the Division I level, Hill has experience coaching in the Atlantic 10, Patriot League and BIG EAST and learned from Tartamella and current Pittsburgh/former UMass head coach Tory Verdi. She both described as “proven winners.”

“Being under these types of leaders, and learning from them has really helped me grow and I’m definitely going to be taking pieces from every boss that I’ve had, over these few years, in order to make sure my program is successful as well,” she said. 

Rich Franchak (left) and Candice Hill (right) pose for a photo at her introductory press conference. She is holding a yellow jersey with "Retrievers" on it and the number 11.
UMBC head coach Candice Hill poses with senior associate athletic director, business and finance Rich Franchak at her introductory press conference on April 15, 2024. (Photo credit: UMBC)

Entering her 12th season on the sidelines, Hill believes she’s a completely different coach — and a more well-rounded one — than when she stepped onto the Wilmington University campus in 2013. She’s seen growth in her confidence and articulating what she wants in terms of X’s and O’s. At St. John’s, head coach Joe Tartamella allowed her to make in-game and late-game decisions, as well as be a key voice when it came to game planning. Hill has also seen growth in her ability to build relationships with her players, while also being able to hold them accountable.

Looking to the season ahead

Over the next month, Hill says she’s most excited about identifying key members of her team and building relationships with them. She’s looking for a mix of youth and experience as she hires her staff.

“Your staff is a huge piece to being successful, so I’m definitely going to be looking for hard workers to join me on this journey,” she said. “And people that want to grow as well. I don’t want anybody that doesn’t want to grow or wants to be stuck in one place. I want us to all challenge each other and to truly grow.” 

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As for the team itself, she wants players entering their last season of eligibility to go out on a high note and knows it starts with building relationships and spending time with them on the court. She’s also looking to recruit players that will bring toughness to the team.

“We have pieces, we have long, athletic guard/forwards,” Hill said. “We got a point guard that’s returning that can shoot the three, that can play [as a] combo [guard]. We have veteran players that have played in multiple collegiate games. And that’s what I love — I love that we have some veteran pieces. Because they know what it takes. They know what it takes to win. So, I think that was my biggest thing, like watching the film, I was like, ‘Wow, this player’s returning, this player’s returning, awesome.’ I want to have veteran players in my program. And that’s what we have already. And I think if I’m able to add a couple pieces, I think we’ll be in great shape.” 

Being from Baltimore and playing at Loyola, Hill looks forward to recruiting locally.

“I lived it, I walked it, I talked it. And so I’ll be able to recruit to it, I’ll be able to tell players, how they’ll have the ultimate support if they decide to stay home in their hometown,” she said. “It was a blessing for me to be able to see my family each and every day in the stands and cheering me on. So I believe that’ll definitely be one of the things that I really hone in on. Obviously, we’ll recruit everywhere, but I want to be able to keep our talented players here in Baltimore, Maryland.”

As Hill prepares for the 2024-25 season, she begins her quest to wake the “sleeping giant,” with the support of her hometown, the university and her soon-to-be-hired staff by her side.

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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