Twins in coaching do battle in the NCAA Tournament

By Brett Hudson

Butch and Clemmie Pierre got to spend a good bit of time in Nashville in early March. They first made the trip to watch Liberty, where their son Joe Pierre III is the Director of Player Development, beat Lipscomb to win the Atlantic Sun championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. A few days later, their other son, Mississippi State’s Video Coordinator Josh Pierre, was there for the Bulldogs’ run in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

At that point, it was evident both of their sons would be working for teams in the NCAA Tournament. These twins have split the family before — Joe graduated from Oklahoma State the same day Josh graduated from Arkansas State — but they couldn’t do this one. They decided to watch the two games at home.

Then mere minutes into the Selection Sunday special, their twin sons were pitted against one another.

“My mom is elated,” Joe Pierre III said. “I haven’t heard her as excited as this since when my dad’s team went to the Final Four in ’06.”

That 2006 Final Four team was LSU, when Butch Pierre was an assistant for John Brady, bringing then teenage twins Joe III and Josh along for the ride. That run was ended in the national semifinals by UCLA, then coached by none other than Josh Pierre’s current boss, Ben Howland. It’s one of many instances of serendipity in the Pierre basketball story.

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Butch Pierre — Joe Pierre II given the nickname Butch by his grandmother — played for MSU from 1981-84 and remains top 10 in school history in career assists. The fact that Josh is about to conclude his first season working for Butch’s alma mater (and the place that began his coaching career) is a thrill for the entire family.

That kind of coincidence has made the roads to Friday’s game both fun and bordering on surreal for the family. But they’ve also been necessary, as both sons have had to fight their way here.

Joe was forced into this line of work early: he tore his ACL, LCL, PCL and meniscus in a freak knee injury, robbing him of his senior season in high school. While Josh played out that senior season, wearing his brother’s No. 11 as tribute, Joe III helped coach the junior varsity team and compiled scouting reports for his brother’s varsity team.

Josh saw the beginnings of a solid coach right then and there.

“There’s a reason why he’s there, there’s a reason why he’s impacted winning every where he goes; he always goes to the Tournament,” Josh told Matt Wyatt Media. “I think he’ll always win.”

From there, Joe III was a student manager at Oklahoma State, where Butch was an assistant coach. Joe III’s path into the profession started at the high school level, where he was a student teacher at the junior high and assisting the Pawnee High School team in Oklahoma — until he was immediately catapulted to the NCAA Tournament.

Joe III landed a graduate assistant job at Middle Tennessee — then coached by Kermit Davis, who shared a locker room with Butch Pierre at MSU and a coaching staff at LSU with him from 1997-2002 — and went to the NCAA Tournament in his first season there, where he was part of 15 MTSU taking down 2 Michigan State.

While Joe III was working his way up at Oklahoma State, Josh was playing at Arkansas State for John Brady — the same head coach Butch worked for on LSU’s Final Four run in 2006. As a senior, Josh led the nation in walk-on minutes played per game all while establishing his own base in the family industry, taking all opportunities provided to sit in on coach film sessions, scouting report breakdowns and even timeout discussions.

That Arkansas State experience proved to be the one he would follow for years, starting as a graduate assistant before moving up to director of operations. Like freshmen forwards Reggie Perry and Robert Woodard, Josh Pierre felt the call to return to the place that was home for his father.

Somehow, all of those roads meet in San Jose for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

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“Out of the 14 times I’ve been to the NCAA Tournament,” Butch Pierre said, “it’s the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen.”

Joe III’s reaction to the news certainly suggests he thought the same thing.

Find the young man on the third row, near the right aisle. He’s the one who remains seated, hands on his head clearly in shock as every player, coach, fan and support staffer around him stands and meets Liberty’s bid in the NCAA Tournament with unchecked enthusiasm.

That man is Joe Pierre III, realizing he and his brother would realize a dream in the making for their entire lives.

“We were excited, one, just to see each other. In this world of college basketball, we rarely get to see each other. I’m excited to see more than to play him,” Joe Pierre III said. “It’s one of those moments you dream of as a young coach’s kid. It’s something I think only God can orchestrate. There’s really no explanation for me.

“We talked shortly thereafter. There were not a lot of words to be said.”

This is more than a dream for Josh, making his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament as something more than the assistant coach’s kid. This grants them the opportunity to do something greater.

“Something my brother and I talked about since we were in high school, if we ever got to this platform we would talk about what matters to us, which is not basketball, winning or losing games,” Josh Pierre said. “We’d have a platform to talk about Jesus and how faith guides our lives. That’s what we want our story to be about. That’s who we are, that’s how our family is and we want to glorify Jesus.”

Joe III went out of his way to say the same. In all that this weekend will mean for the family, the platform for their faith is among their favorite aspects.

Butch Pierre also appreciates the guarantee of it all.

“For the first time, I’m winning either way it goes,” he joked.

He said he and his wife will bring both Mississippi State and Liberty shirts, with him wearing one school while she wears the other and switching at halftime. Friday, the day of the game, is also Butch’s daughter/Joe III and Josh’s sister Langley’s birthday, so she’ll be in San Jose with the family.

If Liberty is to advance, they could play for a spot in the Sweet 16 against Saint Louis and coach Travis Ford — the same man who coached Oklahoma State when Butch was an assistant there and Joe III was a student manager. It could also be Josh’s shot at the Sweet 16 in his first time in the tournament.

Both brothers are open to the idea of sticking around San Jose to see their brother’s team in the second round — but even more open to being in that second round themselves.

“If that’s what God has in the plan, for them to win, then I’ll support them in the next game, and I’m sure he will, too,” Josh said.

Joe Pierre III put it this way: “I’d love to. Obviously focus right now is really wanting to win the game, but I’d love to see my brother do that.”