Ponca Basketball Coach Jai Steadman Leaves NBA's D-League, Returns to Nebraska

Though some might view his recent career move as a step backwards, Jai Steadman hardly feels that is the case. Steadman had spent the past three seasons working as an assistant coach with the Texas-based Rio Grande Valley Vipers, a men's professional squad that competes in the NBA D-League. The Vipers are the top affiliate of the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Despite having one year remaining on his contract, Steadman resigned in order to accept an assistant coaching position with the Bellevue University Bruins, a Division II squad in Nebraska.

Steadman said one of the main reasons he agreed to join the Bruins - his appointment was announced Sept. 4 - was because he was able to return to his home state. He grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Steadman, who is African-American, was adopted by Caucasian parents shortly after his birth. Just three years ago, Steadman, who is now 41, decided to find out some information about his biological mother. He discovered that she was Ponca.

Besides a desire to return to the state he grew up in, Steadman also had been yearning for a return to the collegiate ranks. Before working in the pro ranks with the Vipers, he had coached for numerous university and college teams in Texas and Louisiana.

"I really, really enjoyed the college interaction with the students," he said. "I really liked the college atmosphere."

Before agreeing to join the Bruins, Steadman had explored the possibility of hooking up with various Texas-based collegiate teams. But then he received the offer to join the Bellevue coaching staff.

"It was a no-brainer to take that," he said. "And it's a blessing to come back to Nebraska."

Steadman said the Vipers' brass was supportive of his decision to leave.

"They understood this is what I wanted to do," Steadman said, adding his salary with the Bruins is exactly the same as he was being paid with the Vipers. Having worked with pro athletes the past three seasons, Steadman said he will once again have to get used to dealing with students, in their late teens and early twenties.

And their transgressions will be met differently.

"You fine them (in the pros)," he said. "Here you run them."

And although he wants to help them develop their basketball skills on the court, Steadman said he is more concerned with their education.

"Once basketball stops and you don't have a degree, it's tough out there," he said. "My main focus is to have these kids graduate."

Steadman though believes that the Bruins, who compete in the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference (MCAC), will also have a rather successful 2012-13 campaign. Bellevue advanced to the Sweet 16 of the National Association of Intercollegiate Atheltics' Division II tournament last season.

"With the talent we have I think we can win a national championship this year," Steadman said.

Steadman and members of the Bruins are currently staging some informal workouts. The team can officially start having practices on Oct. 1. Bellevue's first game this season is scheduled for Oct. 30, a non-conference match versus Iowa's Dordt College. Steadman, however, may not be with the Bruins for very long. It's no secret he aspires to be a head coach with an American university team.

"I hope to be a head coach next year," he said. Ideally, that head coaching position would be in his home state.

"It will be tough for them to get me out of Nebraska now that I'm home," he said.

Since learning about his background a few years ago, Steadman has run various basketball clinics for Native youth players. He's now gearing up to host his second annual Sovereign Native Youth Project, a three-day event, which runs in Nebraska, starting on Sept. 29.

The event will attract 40 teenagers, representing the four federally recognized tribes in the state; Ponca, Omaha, Santee Sioux and Winnebago.