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VIProfile: Hank Plona

Story by Emily Robertson

As Hank Plona prepares for his first season as head coach of the WKU Hilltoppers Men’s Basketball team, he is focused on continuing the momentum the program saw during the 2023-2024 season and continuing to add to the tradition of excellence that the WKU community expects and deserves. Despite this being his first Division I head coaching job, Plona brings with him a wealth of experience as both an assistant coach and a head coach, and he is excited to take over after joining the WKU program last year as an assistant coach.

Born and raised in Avon, Connecticut, Plona loved the game of basketball from the beginning. He enjoyed watching and playing the game growing up, but realized quickly how basketball can help you in the bigger picture of life. “Basketball has always made sense to me,” Plona says. “I love that you can learn about life through the sport. You learn how to gain confidence and how to fight through adversity. I really believe that if you can succeed as a ball player, you can be successful in life.”

Plona’s first taste of coaching came as he was finishing his degree at Providence College in Rhode Island. The head coach of the basketball program, Tim Welsh, asked Plona to stay on at the school as a graduate assistant for the team. He helped the team at Providence from 2007 to 2009, and then took a job at University of ArkansasFort Smith, a Division II school, under Coach Josh Newman. He then worked as an assistant coach at Indian Hills Community College from 2010 to 2011 and at South Plains College from 2011 to 2014, where he learned from Coach Steve Green. He says Green focused on what goes into helping people be successful, and he was grateful to absorb so much about coaching during his time at the school.

“Those four years at South Plains in Loveland, Texas, with Coach Steve Green were a big part of how I learned to coach basketball,” Plona says. “I learned from a Hall of Fame coach who won three national titles and went 36-0 in the 2012 season. He keeps the main thing, the main thing and he teaches his players how to play together and communicate.”

In 2015, Plona got his first chance to serve as a head coach back at Indian Hill Community College, where the program found lots of success with him at the helm. “I got a really good job at a really young age,” Plona says. “I got to the point I never thought I’d leave. I enjoyed the people, the community. I really enjoyed what I did.”

But, when Steve Lutz took over at WKU last year, Western Kentucky University got Plona’s attention and he came here as an assistant under Lutz. “There was a new beginning here last year,” Plona says. “Almost a new basketball culture, with a fresh feel. It ended on a very positive note, and in our business, winning leads to positive things.”

After Lutz left WKU to take the head-coaching job at Oklahoma State University, Plona was tapped as the next WKU coach and he couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity. “My goal is to keep building from last year,” Plona says. “It is year one for me, but really it feels like year two since I was here last year. As a head coach, I have to be myself, but we were successful last year playing hard and fast. It will be fun to build off of what we did, and it will be easier to do because we have so many players and coaches coming back. We made a great run, but we want to do more. We’ve been working hard this spring, but we will continue to work into the summer and fall to keep getting better together.”

Plona says that his favorite part of the role as coach is the people aspect, and he says that will remain the same here as he leads the team. “I love seeing where guys start and then continuing to have relationships over the years,” Plona says. “Basketball is a uniting thing that everyone loves. It is great to watch a player grow, change and develop and then to see a player a few years later and you see who they become. There is just nothing better.”

Plona comes from a large, supportive family and his mom and dad, along with his two brothers and two sisters, and lots of nieces and nephews are excited to see him lead WKU basketball. He says his father is his greatest role model as a person, teaching him and molding him into who he is today.

“As a person, my father, Vincent Plona, has been the biggest influence on who I am today,” Plona says. He has strong character and he’s hardworking and passionate. He has empathy for people. Those traits have helped me be a good coach. My father is always thinking something good is about to happen, and as a coach that is what you have to do. You have to think the next practice, the next game, the next time out, something great is going to happen.”

When Plona isn’t busy recruiting and coaching, you may spot him around town enjoying a good cup of coffee, or sampling some of the local breakfast options. He says he already loves the Bowling Green community and is excited for his future with WKU. “I want everyone at WKU to think that hiring me was the best decision they ever made,” Plona says. “I want to win games, I’m squarely focused on WKU and I know we have everything here to be successful for a long time.”

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