Nov. 6, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Ross Wilson may not be the assistant coach of the University of Iowa men's tennis team if it were not for a forgotten Christmas present.
Growing up in Ohio, Wilson was raised playing baseball. His grandfather had played professionally, so it only made sense for Wilson to follow in his family's footsteps. One day, around the age of seven, his father wanted to take Wilson out to teach him tennis, but he had no idea what tennis was.
"He told me to go get my racket, but I had no idea what he was talking about," said Wilson. "He started tearing my closest apart, but couldn't find my tennis racket. He finally looked behind his bed and found my racket, realizing that he had forgotten to give it to me for Christmas."
From that moment on, Wilson began learning the game. When high school came around, Wilson faced the choice of continuing with his longtime sport of baseball or play tennis -- as both sports occurred in the same season. He chose tennis, liking the individual aspect of the game.
"In tennis, it's all about you," said Wilson. "You hit every shot, play every point, and whether you win or lose is completely on you. That was exciting to me, and was what made me ultimately chose tennis over baseball."
Wilson went on to play collegiately at Ohio State and had a stellar career. He was a two-time NCAA All-American and three-time ITA national doubles champion, and broke the Buckeyes' overall career wins record, career doubles wins record and single-season doubles win record in 2006.
When his college days were over, Wilson continued on the professional circuit, winning three ITF Pro Circuit titles and was a nationally ranked player. After a few years on the pro tour, he began his transition into coaching.
In 2010, Wilson began at Kenyon College, a Division III school located in Gambier, Ohio, as an assistant coach. In 2012, Wilson was named the 2012 ITA National Assistant Coach of the Year and the ITA Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year after helping lead Kenyon to a No. 2 final ITA national ranking. Following the 2012 season, Wilson moved to the University of San Diego, a nationally-ranked program, to serve as an assistant coach.
"San Diego was a great opportunity for me, but in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to get back to the Big Ten, "said Wilson. "I'm a Midwest guy, I grew up in Ohio, and I always wanted to coach in the Big Ten because those schools meant something to me."
Wilson heard about Iowa's opening and reached out to UI head coach Steve Houghton.
"I had gotten to know coach Houghton when I was 18 because he recruited me to play here," said Wilson. "I felt comfortable talking with him, and Iowa was my second choice. Once I began coaching, I would see him at tournaments and would talk to him.
"I always had in the back of my mind that Iowa would be a great place to coach. I thought I would do well and he would be a great guy to work with, and it ended up working out."
Now in his first season as a Hawkeye, Wilson has already made his mark. Houghton wanted a coach that could recruit and was savvy with social media to be able to reach out and connect with recruits to go along with someone with playing and coaching credentials.
Wilson has all three.
It has been what Wilson has done outside of his credentials that has impressed Houghton.
"I knew the credentials he had coming in, but what I didn't know was what he would be like day-to-day as an assistant," said Houghton. "He has been great in 1-on-1 work, organizing drills, and is a non-stop guy in recruiting. He relates well with parents and the recruits, and it's already paid off."
Wilson is working to change the men's tennis culture and is seeing results. Several players have posted major wins during the fall schedule, and Wilson says the players are buying into the new style of play that he has brought to the table.
Houghton sees the results too, and couldn't be happier about his hire.
"He has already been such a big success in just a couple of months," he said.