By Jason Pugh, Northwestern State Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State men’s basketball program has found success with first-time Division I head coaches.
The Demons have another as Northwestern State announced Tallahassee Community College’s Rick Cabrera as the 11th head coach in the history of its men’s basketball program. Cabrera will be introduced to the university and Natchitoches communities in a news conference at a to-be-determined date.
“We are thrilled to bring Rick Cabrera to Northwestern State,” Director of Athletics Kevin Bostian said. “After an exhaustive search, we settled on a quality group of finalists from a talented pool of applicants. Rick has a proven track record of producing winning programs on and off the court and two separate junior college programs and comes here with more than a decade of experience at similar Division I institutions. He has shown a knack for both recruiting and developing players in basketball and in life. His resume is lined with successful stop after successful stop, and his time in Natchitoches should be no different. I’d like to welcome Rick and his family – his wife, Danielle, and their four children – to Northwestern State and Natchitoches.”
Cabrera, 47, takes over after Corey Gipson left Northwestern State after one season to take the head coaching job at Austin Peay.
While this will be Cabrera’s first D-I head coaching position, Cabrera is no stranger to leading a program.
As a head coach at Tallahassee and Lackawanna College, Cabrera has averaged nearly 25 wins per season and produced 16 Division I signees while earning three Coach of the Year awards.
His Tallahassee team currently is playing in the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship in Hutchinson, Kansas. The 12th-seeded Eagles won their first two games, including a 94-93 win against No. 5 seed Salt Lake on Wednesday afternoon. Tallahassee will play Dodge City at 6 p.m. Thursday in the national quarterfinals.
“There is a lot of tradition there,” Cabrera said. “Coach (Mike) McConathy did a great job. He was there for 23 years. Then comes Corey Gipson, who did a phenomenal, phenomenal job in his first year. There are only about 400 of these jobs. When you get someone like (NSU President) Dr. (Marcus) Jones and Kevin Bostian to believe in you and your vision and what you can do for your university, you take it and make the most of it. The goal is to win championships, and that is why I chose Northwestern State University.”
In his second season at the helm of Tallahassee CC, Cabrera was named the Panhandle Conference Coach of the Year after the Eagles posted a 28-5 regular-season record and captured the conference championship. Five of Cabrera’s players earned all-conference honors this season, and the Eagles carried a No. 7 national ranking into the national tournament.
Cabrera’s ability to develop talent has been evident throughout his career as a head coach at Lackawanna College from 2004-08 and then through myriad Division I assistant coaching positions covering 13 seasons.
Cabrera’s first Tallahassee CC team produced five all-conference players and six Division-I signees, including Anthony Thomas, a member of Kansas State’s Sweet 16 team.
Ahead of becoming the head coach at Tallahassee, Cabrera spent two seasons at Arkansas State where he helped develop all-conference guards Norchad Omier and Marquis Eaton and recruited JUCO All-American Lonnie Francis to the Red Wolves program.
During Cabrera’s two seasons at Austin Peay (2017-19), he recruited and coached Taylor, who became Austin Peay’s all-time leading scorer and earned Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year honors over current Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant. He also worked closely with Avery Ugba, who is playing professionally overseas.
Taylor (first team) and Chris Porter Bunton (second team) earned All-OVC honors under Cabrera’s direction.
Cabrera’s tour of the Ohio Valley started with five seasons at Tennessee Tech from 2012-17. As the Golden Eagles’ associate head coach, Cabrera helped develop Jud Dillard into a first-team All-OVC selection while working with the team’s post player, including 2012 OVC All-Newcomer first-team selection Jeremiah Samarrippas.
Cabrera’s first season as a Division I assistant coach saw his Chattanooga team sweep the Southern Conference’s regular-season and tournament championships, earning a berth in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
The Mocs also captured the 2011 SoCon North Division title while Cabrera recruited and developed first-team All-SoCon honoree Omar Wattad.
“I am excited to announce Rick Cabrera as our new head men’s basketball coach,” Jones said. “Rick has a proven track record of success and will be positioned to build off the momentum surrounding our men’s basketball program.”
A two-time Tennessee Tech graduate, who helped the Golden Eagles win the 2001 OVC championship, Cabrera began his head coaching career at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
In his four seasons leading the Falcons, Cabrera led Lackawanna to a 100-29 record, three conference championships, two conference tournament titles and two appearances in the District 19 finals.
Cabrera was named the Region XIX Coach of the Year in consecutive years (2005, 2006) and developed Manny Ubilla into the Region XIX Player of the Year. Off the court, Cabrera helped raise the Lackawanna program’s GPA from 1.7 to 2.5.
Cabrera said his goals aligned with what Bostian and Jones have in mind for the Demon program.
“I was able to develop a really good relationship with Kevin, and I connected really well with Dr. Jones,” Cabrera said. “When the opportunity came about, Kevin reached out to me and asked me to send him my information. I was flattered. There was a connection between the two guys who have the power, and you want to have a great rapport with those guys.
“This is a dream job. When you get an opportunity to be a Division I head coach, that is a dream job. You can’t pass that up. I’m forever blessed that the committee, Dr. Jones and Kevin Bostian believed in me and my vision to bring championships to Northwestern State University.”
Cabrera began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Killian High School in Miami before spending two years as an assistant coach at Keystone College in Pennsylvania.
He is married to the former Danielle Olker and the couple has three sons – Jaden, Braxton and Landon – and a daughter, Mikayla.
— Featured photo courtesy of Tallahassee Community College Athletics