Only 34, Takayo Siddle found his voice to become UNCW basketball coach
As Kevin Keatts’ lead assistant in Wilmington from 2014-17, Takayo Siddle is a natural connection to the methods that led the Seahawks to a pair of NCAA tournament bids.
He has spent nearly a decade with Keatts as a player or coach. Those here know him as the calm, cool and collected first lieutenant behind sometimes-fiery, always-confident Keatts as the Seahawks’ exciting style and success left an unforgettable mark.
But Siddle’s full identity goes beyond that time, forged far before the three seasons of #RunDefendWin in Trask Coliseum.
Those that have been a part of his basketball life universally credit his ascent to his innate ability to understand situations, break down what he wants and needs from everyone for success — and then get it.
“He has a presence,” his high school coach, John Harder, said, “and it’s hard to explain sometimes why some people have a presence and some don’t.”
“His gift,” said current Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann.
The conscientious scoring machine has embraced his emotion and fire and fully expects it to be on display. It’s going to take those divergent communication styles — and all the ones in between them, too — to re-establish UNCW in the top tier of the Colonial Athletic Association.
“I’m loud, I’m confident, I know the game. I know what I want to get done,” Siddle said. “If you ever come to a practice and stay the whole time … that’s just who I am. And I’m comfortable in that role. My mom told me, Coach Harder told me, you’re a leader and you’ve always been a leader and people love to follow you because you lead the right way.”
Finding His Future
John Harder is synonymous with successful basketball across the Triad. For more than 50 years, he has been on the sidelines, winning state championships and developing players at every level. He truly has seen it all at the high school level.
Yet, over his extensive career, he says he’s only started three freshmen in a varsity basketball game. Darryl Bedford went on to Arkansas and starred in Austin Peay’s legendary 1987 NCAA Tournament upset of Illinois. Mark Dixon eventually played seven seasons in the NFL.
The third is Takayo Siddle.
“He’s always had that sense of maturity, the sense of seriousness,” Harder said. “Not to a fault, but always had his priorities in the right place.”
“I won’t say he was quiet, but he didn’t really like the limelight,” said high school teammate and longtime friend Devan Carter.
As Siddle progressed at Morehead High School in Eden, N.C., his role grew. By the time he was a senior, everyone knew the game plan.
“Even though he was without a doubt the best player on the team … His teammates had so much respect for him and they looked up to him,” Harder said. “He was a natural leader, a quiet leader.”
Despite turning into the No. 2 scorer in program history, Siddle had few offers as a 5-foot-11 point guard. So Harder reached back to his past — he coached at nearby Hargrave Military Academy in 1971-72 — and took his standout player to an open tryout for the private school’s post-graduate team, coached by a man named Kevin Keatts.
“They had 70-80 kids trying out and he looked good,” Harder said. “I was always appreciative of Kevin Keatts for being who he was and putting him on that team. … I thought, ‘This could be a game changer for him if he could make that team.’”
Siddle parlayed his year at Hargrave into a scholarship at Gardner-Webb. The Runnin’ Bulldogs ed one of the stunners of the 2007-08 season, beating nationally ranked Kentucky in Rupp Arena in the second game of the year. Siddle was the sixth man that night, playing 28 minutes and scoring eight points.
“He was a high character guy … every coach wants that kind of player,” said Tim Craft, who recruited Siddle to Gardner-Webb as an assistant. “I wouldn’t have described him as quiet, but a poised demeanor. He doesn’t say things off the cuff, he’s thought through everything he says.”
As his time in college wound down, he had a decision to make, and his part-time job at the Polo store in the Gaffney, S.C., outlet mall made the decision for him.
“I had kept in touch with Coach Keatts and reached out for some guidance. And if he had a spot [on his staff], I would be interested,” Siddle said. “He said, ‘Give me a week,’ and he held to his word. He called me back and said, ‘When you finish up, I want you to come down and meet the president and I’ll have a spot for you.’
“I wanted to see if I liked it, and I fell in love.”
Familiar Places, New Experiences
Back at Hargrave a second time, Siddle immersed himself again into the process and principles that he had learned four years before.
Carter and Siddle have been friends since high school, the 1-2 scoring punch on the perimeter at Morehead High. He later followed a similar path as Siddle, taking a postgrad year at Hargrave before playing at Elon.
And he exudes an attitude demanded for success in Keatts’ system.
“One thing coach Keatts gave all of us was confidence from when we played for him,” said Carter, who’s now the women’s head coach Division II Lincoln Memorial. “When I got there, he gave us so much confidence, that’s been one of the biggest things we’ve learned from coach is how to instill confidence in those kids.”
And after only one season, Siddle parlayed his second lesson under Keatts into a Division I coaching job..
“He was really really good for us,” Keatts said. “You could see him developing as a coach. He was a really good communicator … Recruiting, he did a great job for us, but did a really good job of recruiting the families. We made a good team.”
Chris Holtmann had taken over as head coach at Gardner-Webb in 2010. He previously had been an assistant with the Bulldogs early in Siddle’s career, then came back to lead the team for three seasons before going on to Butler and his current job at Ohio State.
Siddle was one of the assistants he hired to begin the climb.
“I was terrified,” Siddle said. “But it was the best, because I was learning every day.”
“He had a quiet confidence about him as a player that I thought would serve him well,” Holtmann said. His ability to connect with people, it’s so much of what we do. And can you do that effectively? I thought that would translate well to coaching, because he connected really well to all kinds of people.”
Fellow assistant Jay McAuley, now the head coach at Wofford, saw Siddle’s on-court traits passed to a new generation of players.
“His personality is one of professionalism, and maybe that comes off as being quiet at times,” McAuley said. “But once he trusts you and you’re in his foxhole … the players have loved him for that professionalism and honesty. He loves life. He loves ball, and that rubs off on people.”
Holtmann’s demands were few, but they were specific. Work hard. Work a lot. And be prepared.
“Coach Holtmann is a grinder, in the office all the time, and he groomed us to be just like him. We put in a lot of time and a lot of hours with our players and in our office,” Siddle said. “That built my foundation to who I am now. ... Just a bunch of blue-collar dudes that weren’t supposed to be here. That’s kind of how I coach my team now.”
Holtmann and McAuley both exited in 2013, leaving Siddle as the lone assistant to return under new coach Tim Craft, who had recruited Siddle to the school during his post-graduate year at Hargrave.
“He was young, and I was so impressed with him as an assistant,” Craft said. “Just every phase, every area that you want an assistant to be good at, he was good at at a young age.”
As the team’s “offensive coordinator,” Siddle was working up game plans and, in hindsight, doing so much more.
“He was huge for me,” Siddle said. “He gave me so much freedom and pushed me in a different way and gave me a voice.”
Speaking recently about that 2013-14 season, Craft said he didn’t realize at the time that Siddle felt that way.
“Me being in the middle of it, I probably wasn’t as aware of that growth. I just remember him being really good,” Craft said.
“As we start thinking about it, I can think of so many situations where we relied on him with our players. Good and bad. On the court. Off the court. Having him there to rely on finding the best situation with our players … He does have a feel for what the pulse of the team is.”
Using His Voice
But another rebuild soon presented itself.
This time, it was Keatts reaching out to Siddle, and not the other way around
“I knew that first year in Wilmington I wanted three young active energetic guys to come into the program. I thought that was what we needed at the time,” Keatts said. “Guys that could hit the ground running. … He was one of the first guys I reached out to.”
“It was easier (to take the job),” Siddle said. “I had already rebuilt a program, and to come to Wilmington to a similar situation? We had to hit the ground running in recruiting and get on the court and develop that relationship with guys. And how can I turn down coming from Boiling Springs, North Carolina, to the beach?”
Keatts and Siddle won three regular-season conference titles and coached in two NCAA tournaments, pushing a pair of ACC squads to the brink. Their three seasons at NC State saw regular-season success, and a surprise NCAA Tournament bid in 2018.
“One thing is that he’s always been able to relate to people. He was always well liked, was very popular in high school, but never big-timed anybody,” said his high school teammate, Carter. “He never looked down on anybody. He’s always been likeable. You fast forward and put that into a coach, it’s an ability to build relationships with people. Whether it’s recruiting or working your locker room, you have to have relationships. There’s no surprise why he’s been able to shoot up the ladder. Those things matter.”
Siddle was considered for the UNCW job when Keatts left, but wasn’t selected. This time around, the result was different.
This basketball season has yet to officially start, but it’s already been the most unpredictable in memory. From Zoom team meetings to COVID testing to a tenuous schedule reliant on a virus that has no pattern. Yet, Siddle feels ready.
“I think my preparation takes me to another level and gets me the confidence I need,” Siddle said. “And that’s how I’ll be in games. I know things will come up unexpectedly. I just try to be prepared for everything.”
Sounds just like that freshman that made the varsity basketball team at Morehead High School.
“He was determined from an early age to make something of himself,” Harder said. “I can remember he had just graduated from Gardner-Webb and was on the computer and working on his resume … I thought if he went into coaching he could be a really good coach. But I didn’t think then he’d be an assistant at State and at UNC-Wilmington. But it doesn’t surprise me now.”
More on Takayo Siddle
Born: May 1986
Playing Career: Morehead HS, Eden, N.C. (2000-04); Hargrave Military Academy (2004-05); Gardner-Webb University (2005-09)
Coaching Career: Assistant, Hargrave Military (2009-10); Assistant, Gardner-Webb (2010-14); Assistant, UNCW (2014-17); Assistant, N.C. State (2017-20); Head Coach, UNCW (present)
Did You Know? Takayo Siddle is among the five youngest head coaches in men's Division I basketball for the 2020-21 season. ... Siddle is the No. 2 scorer in school history at Morehead High. ... Siddle played in Gardner-Webb's huge November 2007 upset victory at Kentucky, logging 28 minutes and scoring eight points.