Hillman’s Muszynski reflects on career after milestone win

News File Photo Hillman boys basketball coach Eric Muszynski talks to his team during a time out in this News file photo. Muszynski, who took over the program in 2005, recently earned his 250th win leading the Tigers.

HILLMAN — Early in his coaching career, Eric Muszynski had reason to worry.

Two seasons into his tenure as Hillman boys basketball coach, Muszynski’s teams were 10-32 and whispers circulated about whether Muszynski was the man for the job.

Thankfully, a combination of patience, persistence and reassurance provided a roadmap to future success.

Now in his 17th year as Hillman’s head coach, it’s not a stretch to say Muszynski has done well. He earned his 250th win last Friday as Hillman defeated Oscoda and he’s filled Hillman’s trophy case and gym with multiple banners and trophies.

“It feels really good. (It shows) how good our basketball program is,” Muszynski said of his milestone win. “That’s what I’m most proud of.”

Muszynski took over Hillman’s program in the 2005-06 season knowing that it would take some work to build the Tigers into a consistent winner. From the outset, he focused on changing the program’s culture and building a tradition that players at all levels would one day want to be a part of.

“I learned how to build something at Alpena High School (as a player). When I was in high school, I wanted to play for the state championship,” Muszynski said. “As a player, you’re in the driver’s seat and more in control of your destiny if you put the time in. It’s my job as a coach to lead kids and find ways to motivate them.”

He told the man who hired him, administrator Jack Richards, that he planned to add some basketball banners in Hillman’s gym, to add to an impressive collection of baseball banners, including three state championships.

After a rocky start, things gradually started to come together for Muszynski and the Tigers. In Year 3, they finished above .500. In Year 4, during the 2008-09 season, they won their first district title since 2003.

By Year 8, Muszynski had turned the Tigers into one of Northeast Michigan’s most consistent teams. Between 2013 and 2018, Hillman went 114-8 with multiple district titles, three regional championships and put together a 57-game winning streak against North Star League opponents as well as a lengthy home winning streak.

He’s coached some of Hillman’s all-time greats in that span too as numerous players have earned all-conference, all-state or all-area honors in addition to etching their names into the school record book.

It was Richards’ belief in him that helped Muszynski through those early seasons.

“He gave me a shot and I promised him I would do my best to bring as many wins and championships as I could,” Muszynski said.

Muszynski has more than delivered on that promise, leading Hillman to multiple 20-win seasons, a dozen consecutive winning seasons, six district championships, three regional titles and numerous conference titles among other team and individual player benchmarks.

He’s coached some of Hillman’s all-time greats in that span too as numerous players have earned all-conference, all-state or all-area honors in addition to etching their names into the school record book.

But Muszynski is quick to point out that the credit for Hillman’s success is not his alone. He credits his wife Lindsey for her support, the talented players he’s gotten to coach and his assistants, including Harold Smith and Jon Hiveley.

“I’ve been fortunate to coach some good guys and some good players,” Muszynski said. “I’ve been blessed to have good families, and coaches, and players to work with.”

Though there’s still more than a month to go this season, Hillman looks to be in the midst of another special year. After a win over Hale on Friday, Hillman is 13-0 overall and in first place in the North Star League with a 5-0 record.

Muszynski said he’s come a long way since his early days in charge of the program, but his position as head coach is one he still takes great pride in.

“Families have entrusted me to with young men and that’s a great honor,” Muszynski said. “Hillman took a shot on me and my main goal is to improve our basketball program and make our town proud.”


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