David Balza was named the head men’s basketball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University on April 23, 2013.
In his third year leading the Sailfish, Balza saw his program improve by two games from the previous season to 12-14 in the 2015-16 campaign. The season saw exciting wins over Sunshine State Conference teams, including a buzzer-beating 100-99 win over eventual South Region Champion Barry. Just a week later the 'Fish knocked off defending national champion Florida Southern 99-96 in overtime. PBA also got wins over Florida Tech, Tampa, Embry-Riddle, Rollins, and a season sweep of Lynn. Freshman Bakari Warthen led the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game, which would have ranked No. 8 in the SSC had PBA been eligible in the conference. Along with fellow freshman Malek Barber they provided a nice combo with Warthen slashing to the basket and Barber showing nice footwork in the post.
Year two of the Balza era at Palm Beach Atlantic saw a continued improvement of the program, adding two more victories to their 2013-14 total for a 10-win season, the first double-digit win total for PBA since the 2010-11 campaign. They season included wins over Sunshine State Conference opponents like Florida Tech, Nova Southeastern, Rollins and Saint Leo, as well as including a 5-0 start to the year. With many games coming down to the final possession, the season certainly provided another step for the Sailfish in their quest to become a South Region power.
His first season at the helm of the Sailfish resulted in a highly-competitive team on the court that increased its win total from one in 2012-13 to eight in 2013-14. PBA rocked the Rubin Arena in the first game of the season when the 'Fish took down crosstown rival Northwood University 75-65. Even with the win total not reaching the expectation Coach Balza set for his squad, the foundation was laid for success in the near future.
Coach Balza has spent over 25 years in NCAA college basketball, half of those as a head coach at the NCAA Division I, II and III levels. Known foremost for his integrity, Coach Balza has found his niche building and rebuilding programs, cleaning up probation-riddled institutions and turning them into winners both on and off the court.
Balza most recently completed his second season at Bethany Lutheran College in 2012-13. In his two seasons leading the Vikings program Coach Balza's squads posted a 22-6 mark in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) while earning the program’s first-ever UMAC regular season championship. His time on the bench in Mankato, Minn. saw the Vikings make it all the way to the UMAC tournament championship in both seasons with Coach Balza at the helm.
Prior to his time with Bethany Lutheran, Coach Balza called the Sunshine State home for a ten-year period as the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University from 2001-11. He has also been the head coach at Saint Joseph’s College (1998-01) while serving as an assistant coach at Ashland University (1996-98) and Cleveland State University (1991-96).
Although his time at Bethany Lutheran was short his impact won’t soon be forgotten. The Vikings won the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference regular season championship in 2011-12 with a 13-1 conference record in Coach Balza’s first year at the helm. This was the first UMAC Championship for Bethany since transitioning to the NCAA and joining the conference in 2004. They also set program records for the NCAA era in overall winning percentage (.593), conference winning percentage (.929), longest winning streak (13), longest home winning streak (8) and longest road winning streak (6). Bethany led the UMAC in both scoring offense (74.7 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (.388). They also won their share of close games, going 5-2 in games decided by 3 points or less or in overtime. With the team’s success, Coach Balza was named the UMAC Coach of the Year in 2011-12.
In May of 2001, Balza was selected from over 200 candidates to be the program’s first basketball coach at Florida Gulf Coast. FGCU celebrated its first academic year in 1997, started athletics in 2000 and became an official NCAA Division II program in 2004. In 2006, Florida Gulf Coast University applied for membership in NCAA Division I and accepted an invitation into the Atlantic Sun Conference. They began play in the league as a Division I institution in the fall of 2007 and finished their four-year reclassifying period in Spring, 2011, making them eligible for post-season competition for the first time in 2012. His FGCU teams had a combined 153-121 record. This includes 38 Division I wins in their four-year reclassifying period, which is the second most of any conference school during their first four years in Division I. Despite the rigors and challenges of Division I basketball, Coach Balza remained true to his character and never received a technical foul in his nine seasons at the helm of the Eagles.
Rebounding has become the calling card of a Balza-coached team. In 2010-11, his Eagle squad led the conference in offensive rebounding. On two separate occasions, his teams led the nation in rebounding (2004-05 & 2006-07). Coach Balza’s teams are also known for their up-tempo style of play, running a fast-break offense made famous by Roy Williams. Over eight seasons as a head coach in Division II, his teams averaged 79.0 points per game. His squads have also excelled on the defensive end, holding opponents to just over 40% from the field and forcing nearly 18 turnovers per contest during that same time frame.
In 2010-11, Balza guided a young team that featured no seniors in their top-eight rotation to their 8th double digit-win season in nine years. His young team came of age at the end of the year, winning four of their last five, knocking off two of the teams that had tied for the league championship the year before. They set the school’s D1-era scoring record in defeating arch-rival Stetson on the road 111-103.
Balza’s teams have always taken on tough competition having played Kansas, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Marquette, Arizona State and Arkansas, just to name a few in his FGCU days. Perhaps their biggest win came when they convinced DePaul to play the Eagles on their home-court. They defeated the Big East school before a raucous crowd, highlighting the 2009-10 season.
The 2008-09 team won the most games (11) of FGCU’s Division I era. Balza’s 2007-08 team put FGCU on the Division I map, though, when they set not one, not two, but three NCAA I defensive records in their 60-30 win over NCAA tournament perennial Penn. This remains, to many, one of the greatest win in FGCU history.
Prior to the transition to Division I, Balza had taken FGCU to the pinnacle of success in NCAA Division II. He went 114-39 in five seasons at the D II level. In 2006-07, their last year in Division II, FGCU set a program record for wins, going 27-6. Three of those losses came against their three D I opponents, as they entered their exploratory year for Division I. FGCU out-rebounded their opponents by an average of 10.8 rebounds per game. No other team in the country in NCAA II or I had a higher rebound margin.
The Eagles had an 18-win season in 2005-06, including wins in eight of the last nine contests despite having lost eight seniors and four starters from the previous year.
Balza guided the Eagles to a berth in the NCAA Division II Championship tournament in 2004-05, their first year eligible for post-season selection, after posting a 24-7 mark. For his efforts, Balza was named the 2005 National Independent Coach of the Year.
In 2003-04, Balza’s Eagles went 22-5, setting a program-best winning percentage of .815. They opened the season winning their first 14 games and were ranked in the Top 20 in the country for the entire year, reaching as high as #5. They ran their home winning streak to 29 games and were the only D2 in the country with victories over D1 teams on consecutive nights.
In FGCU’s inaugural season in 2002-03, Balza led the Eagles to a 23-9 record. They opened Alico Arena with a 14-0 home mark on the season and scored a whopping 82 points per game.
Balza prepared for his task of building the FGCU program from scratch by helping to rebuild three struggling programs. He made his mark as a head coach at St. Joseph’s (Indiana) in the vaunted Great Lakes Valley Conference, considered the premier Division II basketball conference in the nation.
One week before classes began in 1998, Coach Balza took over a St. Joseph’s program that had been placed on two-year probation by the NCAA and proceeded to win more conference games than in the previous two seasons combined. More important, he restored a clean image to a program steeped in tradition. After wading through the penalties of the two-year probation, he won 18 games in his third year in a league that included three top-ten teams in the country. As a result, Balza was selected as the 2001 GLVC Coach of the Year and the Region Coach of the Year.
Balza was also an assistant coach at Division II Ashland (Ohio) from 1996-1998 and spent five years as an assistant at Division I Cleveland State from 1991-1996. Both of those coaching staffs took over programs that had been placed on probation and had great success turning around the fortunes of their teams, winning 18 games at Ashland and 22 games at CSU in just his second year at each institution. As an assistant, Coach Balza made his name as a recruiter, helping to assemble one of the top 35 recruiting classes in the country.
Balza preached of “building a first class tradition” from the time he took the reins at Florida Gulf Coast University. He molded the Eagles into a model program for integrity on the basketball floor, in the classroom, and in the community. Academic success and community involvement are just as important to Coach Balza as on-court preparation. In addition, Balza’s teams have been very active in the community, helping the athletic programs reach more than 10,000 youngsters through events such as Viking Reading, Eagle Reading, Eagle Math, Community Reach Out Program, Habitat, Hoops for the Heart, visits to hospitals and volunteering at Ronald McDonald House.
A native of South Haven, Mich., Coach Balza is a 1991 graduate of the University of Michigan, where he served first as a student manager with the 1989 national championship team and later as a student assistant and video coordinator. Balza earned a master’s degree in education from Cleveland State University in 1993.
He is a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and has been published in their NABC Courtside magazine on the topic of post play.
He now resides in West Palm Beach, with his wife Karrie, daughter Faith, and son Jack.
BALZA'S CAREER NUMBERS
Year by Year at Palm Beach Atlantic University
|2016-17||16-13||.552||10-8||.556||SSC Tournament Runner-Up|
Year by Year at Bethany Lutheran College
|2011-12||16-11||.593||13-1||.929||UMAC Regular Season Champions, Tournament Runner-Up|
|2012-13||12-14||.462||9-5||.643||UMAC Tournament Runner-Up|
Year by Year at Florida Gulf Coast
|2004-05||24-7||.774||N/A||N/A||NCAA II Tournament|
|2007-08||10-21||.323||6-10||.375||First season in Division I|
Year by Year at St. Joseph's (Indiana)
|2000-01||18-13||.580||11-9||.550||GLVC Tournament Semifinals|