Introducing the La Salle Men’s Basketball Leadership Giving Societies
For the past year, La Salle’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics & Recreation Brian Baptiste, along with men’s basketball head coach Ashley Howard and a charter class of 12 alumni, have been working on a rising-tide initiative within the University’s alumni channels. It is an initiative that they believe has the potential to raise all ships at the University.
The La Salle Men’s Basketball Leadership Giving Societies are a fundraising structure designed to be the financial backbone of the program. Styled in the program’s illustrious history, the initiative aims to build upon that history and elevate the program to national prominence and sustained success—athletically, academically, and socially.
The initiative, Baptiste said, will provide a “transformational experience” for men’s basketball players on and off the court, intent on creating an “impact felt for generations,” He added. The Leadership Giving Societies’ three-year donor commitment ensures that the growth of funding is maintained. Members are split into three societies depending upon their pledge: the Tom Gola Society, the Ken Durrett Society, and the Michael Brooks Society—each offering numerous, unique benefits.
This sustainable structure is one that Baptiste has eyed since his arrival at La Salle. He, along with Howard and the charter class, have cultivated a base of support from passionate La Salle alumni who believe this is the time to come together.
“We can’t wait until we make that next NCAA Tournament run like we did in 2013. We can’t wait because then it’s too late,” Baptiste said. “We need to have the structure in place to truly capitalize. We want to sustain it and make sure it’s not a situation where 2013 feels like so long ago. But we need individuals to be on board and realize that they are not only making a commitment to this generation, but they’re making a commitment to the future generations of La Salle Explorers.”
That commitment gets to the core of how Baptiste intends to sustain the Leadership Giving Societies for many years to come. The focus, on growing individuals as successful beyond athletics, signals a cyclical intent: As basketball alumni progress toward careers and endeavors beyond their athletic careers, they give back to future members of the team, who then might do the same.
To that point, Baptiste asks: “Who is the young Greg Webster on the team right now?”
Webster, ’81, a member of the inaugural charter class, was a teammate of Brooks’ and part of the successful La Salle basketball teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He has been an influential supporter of the basketball team and the School of Business for decades. He has served on the University’s Board of Trustees and currently works as Chief Operating Officer of PMC Property Group.
When coming on board in late 2019, Webster has helped lay out the Leadership Giving Societies’ goals. He noted that short-term ambitions of the initiative are strategic from both a health standpoint, while also boosting the optics of the program for attracting recruits.
“You need to sell a little bit of sizzle,” he said.
In a long-term capacity, Webster pointed to the financial impact of developing the sustained success for which the initiative aims. Reaching the NCAA Tournament annually, for example, is a lucrative prospect for men’s basketball programs and can generate several million dollars for participating teams. The Giving Societies focus on sustainability, with an increased level of enrollment that a winning environment and visible brand create.
Like all Explorers, Webster remembers the buzz around the city of Philadelphia and beyond when La Salle went on its magical run to the 2013 Sweet Sixteen. That feeling, and the goal of recreating it consistently, is at the heart of developing the Leadership Giving Societies and a repeat topic when speaking with other charter class members, like Steve Degnan, ’87. Degnan, who is based in Saint Louis, is the Chief Human Resources Officer for Nestlé Purina North America. A University Trustee, Degnan is another longtime supporter of men’s basketball and someone who Baptiste noted “really understands continued engagement, as a student and then as an alumnus.” Degnan envisions a long-term impact toward establishing a widespread culture of passionate alumni across the country and strong support when the Explorers hit the road.
“We need somebody in every town where we play to cause a ruckus when we come in,” Degnan said.
That passion is reflected in the Leadership Giving Societies’ emphasis on embracing the program’s history as a basis for future success.
“I think we have one of the best basketball histories out there,” Degnan said. “I don’t think we talk about it enough, and that’s part of our Christian Brothers’ heritage. It’s just not the personality of La Salle to be boastful. But our program ranks up there.”
“The spirit and tradition are filled with enormous success,” Webster added. “We’ve done it before, and we can do it again.”
That emphatic transition from past success to future aspiration is central to the ambition of the initiative and not one from which Baptiste shies.
“I always talk about how you’ve got to have that chip on your shoulder,” Baptiste said.
We shouldn’t be afraid to have ambitious goals. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the success we’ve had as a program.
For Baptiste, the Men’s Basketball Leadership Giving Societies represents just the beginning of the program’s evolution. He sees it as the tide to raise all ships; a sustainable funding model for every La Salle program to follow—athletically, academically, and socially.
“Because if it’s just from an athletics standpoint, we missed the boat,” he said.