When Kyle Neptune, ’07, was a student athlete at Lehigh, he never saw himself becoming a coach. He put all of his energy into playing basketball, and after graduation, he tried to play professionally overseas.
Neptune said after playing in a couple of different countries, he decided continuing to play wasn’t his calling. Still having a passion for basketball, he got into coaching.
In 2008, he became the video coordinator for Villanova University’s men’s basketball team. He left Villanova in 2010 to be an assistant coach first for Niagara University and then for Hofstra University. He returned to Villanova in 2013 as an assistant coach and was a part of the coaching staff that led the Wildcats to a national title this year.
“It was a bit surreal,” Neptune said. “The thing that has sunk in now is just the aftermath in terms of going to different events and seeing how people react to our players. In terms of the basketball part, I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet.”
Neptune is no stranger to winning a championship. He became a Patriot League champion his first year at Lehigh.
“My roommate at the time, Jose Olivero, hit the game-winning shot in the championship game to get us to the NCAA Tournament,” Neptune said. “That will forever be my fondest memory of my career at Lehigh.”
Neptune said the feeling of winning the national title wasn’t much different than winning the Patriot League Championship. He said winning the Patriot League title was the team’s only chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, making that win very similar, in terms of accomplishment, to winning the NCAA Tournament.
However, he also said it is a bit different winning a championship title as a coach because he was far more in control of his emotions since he was not out on the court competing.
Lehigh men’s basketball head coach Brett Reed was coach for all of Neptune’s four years at Lehigh. He said Neptune is a passionate and dedicated basketball player.
“Everyone could see that he had his heart on his sleeve,” Reed said, “and when you have a teammate that has that type of passion and energy, it can really help fuel some of (the team’s) efforts and energies.”
Although Neptune was able to provide leadership through his passion and energy, Reed said he never pegged him as someone to go into coaching. But because of his love for the game, he wondered if he would end up working in the basketball industry.
Roseann Corsi, the director of public relations for Lehigh Athletics, also agreed she did not expect Neptune to become a coach after graduating from Lehigh, but she was excited for him when she learned that he did.
“He was the first one that I saw on TV go congratulate coach Jay Wright,” Corsi said. “It was neat to see a Lehigh alum be a part of that.”
Former Lehigh assistant coach Bob Simmons was the leader in Neptune’s recruitment to Lehigh, Reed said. He said Neptune came into Lehigh as a renowned scorer in high school with clear talent. Neptune said he chose Lehigh because he connected with the players on the team and felt at home with them.
Neptune has remained in contact with Reed, as well as quite a few of his Lehigh teammates, since graduation. The two even had the opportunity to compete against each other when Lehigh took on Villanova in last season’s opener at the PPL Center in Allentown.
“There were some unique twists and turns in that story,” Reed said. “You had Darrun Hilliard, who was a local player coming home to play in front of his home crowd, and you had (Neptune), who had played against Villanova as a player, now a coach coaching against Lehigh.”
Neptune said it was great being able to see familiar faces at that game, including Reed, who he calls a mentor. He said he always roots for Lehigh from afar, but once the game starts he treats it like any other game as a coach.
As for Reed, he’s proud of Neptune accomplishing his dream of winning the NCAA Tournament.
“There’s so much appreciation that I have for (Neptune) and for what it means to be a Lehigh student athlete,” Reed said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than for him being able to have the highest honor in college basketball, and that’s being a national champion.”