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Lemond Earns National Honor From Baseball America
Zech Lemond has been named a third team All-America relief pitcher by Baseball America.
Lemond took over as the Owls' stopper to begin his second year with the program and went on to set the new school record for saves in a single season with 14. He finished as the C-USA co-leader in saves while posting a 7-2 record with a 2.02 ERA. In 75.2 innings the right-hander from Houston (Waltrip High School) held opponents to a composite.207 batting average.
Head Coach: Rice University
There are some fairly common factors that measure coaching success in college baseball. The familiar criteria include a coach's wins and win-percentage, NCAA Regional bids, trips to the College World Series, winning a national championship, conference championships, All-America honorees and molding young players into major league draft picks.
It's common criteria. Rice Owls head coach Wayne Graham has had uncommon success.
Now entering his 20th season at the helm of the Rice baseball program, and his 31st as a collegiate head coach, Graham has been one of the top coaches in the country who has built a sky-scraper of a program at Rice.
At Rice Graham has amassed 870 wins and maintained a .719 win percentage. Another way of looking at the .719 win percentage is that it's the equivalent of a major league team winning 116 games in a single season -- except Graham has maintained that career win percentage over 19 seasons at Rice.
Are all-America selections the criteria for an outstanding coach? Graham has coached 29 different Rice players to a total of 43 all-America awards. Perhaps it's molding a player into a pro prospect. More than 20 former Owls were playing professional baseball in 2010, including six in the majors and two right across town for the Houston Astros. Of course that total of Graham-coached players to reach the majors isn't even counting the ones he tutored while at San Jacinto College (of which one was still active in 2010).
There were seven of his Owls selected in the 2010 major league draft and a total of 23 selected over the last three years. It's a lofty total to be sure, but consider in 2007 Graham had 14 Owls drafted by the majors. The 14 Rice draft picks tied the college record for the most players selected from one school in a single year.
Are team accomplishments the criteria? Consider Rice has won 15 conference championships in a row, including C-USA regular season and tournament crowns, all nine Western Athletic Conference titles during the Owls' tenure in that league (1997-2005) and the final Southwest Conference Championship in 1996. The 2010 season was Rice's 16th-straight appearance in an NCAA Regional.
The Owls have been to NCAA Super Regionals nine times since the format was adopted in 1999. The Blue & Gray has been to the College World Series seven times since 1997. In 2003, Graham led Rice to the school's first team national championship in any sport.
Pick the criteria for coaching success, and Graham has far-exceeded the standard.
His work in 2010 may have been some of his best coaching yet. He guided the Owls to the C-USA regular season title, an NCAA Regional bid and 40 wins in a demanding schedule that featured 26 games against elite teams that went on to national postseason play. Along the way he coached and developed his sophomore third-baseman, Anthony Rendon, into the National Player of the Year and recipient of the Howser Trophy. At the end of the year he was named the C-USA Keith LeClair Coach of the Year for the fourth time.
Graham's 2009 Rice squad overcame a host of injuries to finish among the nation's Top 10 teams. The Owls stormed to the C-USA Tournament Championship then hosted and won the NCAA Regional at Reckling Park. He coached Rendon to the National Freshman of the Year honors.
The 2008 Rice squad rocketed to the upper echelon of the national Rating Percentage Index (RPI), finishing fourth overall. The high RPI made Rice an easy choice for a national seed in the NCAA Tournament and to host postseason games. Graham's Owls justified that consideration with the program's third trip to Omaha in as many years. The Blue & Gray dominated the C-USA regular season with a 21-3 league record. He was named the South Central Region Coach of the Year by his colleagues in the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) and the C-USA Keith LeClair Coach of the Year.
The 2007 Rice squad was second in the nation in wins (56) and third in the nation in win-percentage (.800). The Blue & Gray reached the semi-finals of the CWS and tied for third in the nation for a second year in a row. The team also had the No. 1 rating percentage index (RPI) in the country. At the end of the year Graham was named the National Division I Coach of the Year by Fieldturf, the ABCA region coach of the year and LeClair Coach of the Year.
His 2006 team had the best win-percentage in the country. The Owls reached the semifinals of the CWS and tied for third in the nation. For an incredible 2006 season, the College Baseball Foundation named Graham one of its national coaches of the year. His fellow head coaches in C-USA named him the Keith LeClair Coach of the Year his first year in the league.
It may be hard to imagine with all the success Graham has had at Rice for these many years, but at first there were small steps for a program which had never won even a conference championship or advanced to NCAA tournament play.
Year one in 1992 showed a 13-game improvement in the win column. Year two (1993) was another seven games better. In year three (1994), the Owls had their best finish ever in Southwest Conference play at 12-6 and their first appearance under Graham in the SWC postseason tournament. Year four (1995) boasted of 43 wins and Rice's first bid to the NCAA tournament. Year five (1996): a SWC tournament title and NCAA bid.
The Owls won the 1996 SWC championship in storybook fashion. Entering the last conference tournament in Lubbock as the number-six seed, Graham's Owls swept through the field in four straight games, topped by a 16-8 romp past Texas in the final. It was Rice baseball's most satisfying week in its long history as a member of the SWC.
Then there was Graham's sixth Rice season in 1997, the Owls' first foray into the Western Athletic Conference. Led by a duo that Baseball America called "one of the greatest power packages in college baseball history" (pitcher Matt Anderson and first-baseman Lance Berkman), Rice soared to a 47-16 record and its first WAC team championship. A 13-game winning streak over the last month of the regular season ensured titles in the WAC-South and at the league tournament, resulting in an automatic NCAA bid.
Rice returned to Lubbock for the 1997 Central Regional where the South Plains magic continued from the year before. The Owls romped through the regional, earning the school's first entry into the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. It was a season that netted Graham kudos as the western region's coach of the year as voted by the ABCA.
In 1998, Rice posted a 46-17 overall record and was even more successful in the WAC. The Owls ran through their division with a 26-4 record and capped the year with another four-game sweep in the postseason tournament. Graham's charges were the top seed in the Central Regional in College Station, but a pair of slugfest losses ended the year prematurely. Damon Thames was the ABCA national player of the year, and Bubba Crosby was the Owls' fourth first-round draft choice in four seasons. Graham won recognition as the WAC coach of the year by his peers.
The 1999 season ran true to form. Led by one of the best pitching staffs in college baseball, the Owls never left the top 10 in any of the national polls, enjoying the school's first number-one ranking in any sport on two different occasions and finishing at number five. Graham was named Baseball America's national coach of the year, as well as repeating his WAC honor. The conference tournament was another four-game sweep, but the return trip to Lubbock for the regional was a bit less routine.
After an opening round upset at the hands of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Owls swept through Rutgers, UWM and host Texas Tech twice for its second regional title. In the new Super Regional, Rice also dropped the opener to Louisiana-Lafayette before stopping the Cajuns twice to win the trip to Omaha. That was up to six straight wins when elimination was only one loss away. The head coach had convinced the squad to keep fighting. At Omaha, the Owls fell to eventual national champion Miami in their opener. Rice's first-ever CWS win, over Oklahoma State, followed two days later.
The 2000 season is one of Graham's most outstanding coaching achievements. Adjusting to six new position players and the loss of all-America pitcher Jeff Nichols due to an injury, the Owls staggered through the first half of the schedule. After April 1, though, the head coach righted the ship to lead the Owls from a sub-.500 record to their fourth straight WAC title on the final weekend of the season.
More success followed in 2001. Led by an all-America pitching staff featuring Kenny Baugh and Jon Skaggs, the Owls spent six weeks as the nation's number-one team. The amazing comeback win over Baylor on Memorial Day clinched the Owls' second trip to a Super Regional.
In 2002, the Owls adjusted again after Baugh and Skaggs were first-round selections in the professional draft. Graham combined two new players in the weekend pitching rotation -- transfer Justin Crowder and freshman Philip Humber -- and five new position players with four returnees, keeping the Owls near the top of the national rankings most of the year. Graham was named the WAC and ABCA western regional coach of the year as the Owls again advanced to Omaha.
In 2003, his 12th season, Graham's mind and energy were focused squarely on the goal of Rice's first national championship. The team combined the best pitching staff in the nation with the best defense to win 58 of its 70 games. The Owls spent more than two months ranked as the top team in the nation, and the team ran off an eye-opening 30-game winning streak. Sophomore pitchers Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, Philip Humber and Josh Baker combined for a 47-5 record, and closer David Aardsma had a Rice-record 12 saves. Every Owl starter won at least one postseason honor and Graham was named the national and WAC coach of the year.
In 2004, the Owls went 46-14 and won another WAC title to qualify for another postseason appearance. Graham came up with yet another Rice first. The pitching trio of Humber, Niemann and Townsend were all selected among the first eight picks of the major league draft (numbers three, four and eight overall). It was the first time in MLB history that three pitchers, or even three players, from the same school had been selected that high in the draft's first round.
Freshmen were the bulk of the 2005 team, but that did not stop the Owls (45-19) from winning the WAC championship. That young Rice team came within four outs of reaching the College World Series after nearly upsetting number one ranked Tulane on the road in the Super Regional.
A native Houstonian who had followed the Owls since his earliest days, he played high school baseball at Reagan High in the Heights and matriculated to Texas, where he played two seasons under the legendary Bibb Falk. After his playing days as a Longhorn ended, Graham embarked on an 11-year professional career as a third baseman and outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets organizations.
Despite several strong seasons in the minors -- he hit .300 or better in six of 10 minor league stops, including a .311 average with 17 home runs and 70 runs batted in at Dallas-Fort Worth in 1962 to earn Texas minor league player of the year honors -- Graham had just two brief stints in the major leagues. The first came in 1963 when he appeared in 10 games for Gene Mauch's Philadelphia Phillies. A year later, Graham played 20 games for Casey Stengel and the New York Mets.
Following his playing days, Graham returned to UT to receive his B.S. in physical education in 1970, and he added a master's of education from the University of Houston in 1973.
Graham's coaching career began at Scarborough High School in Houston. In nine seasons at Scarborough and one at Spring Branch, Graham's teams compiled a 98-13 (.883) district record, won seven district titles and never finished lower than second place in the district race.
After nine successful seasons on the high school level, Graham moved on to San Jacinto, where he proceeded to turn the Gators into the nation's most celebrated JC team. His first squad in 1981 (featuring freshman Roger Clemens) went 43-7 and finished second in the Texas JC ranks. The following two seasons brought 89 more victories (only 22 losses) and a pair of conference titles.
Graham was just getting started. In 1984, he led the Gators to the first of seven consecutive 50-win seasons and the national JC tournament. A loss in the championship game only served to fuel the fires that would lead to three straight national titles in 1985-87. Another runner-up showing in 1988 was followed by two more titles in 1989 and 1990, giving the Gators five championships in a six-year span while preparing dozens of players for major college and/or professional careers.
Graham's honors at San Jac were nearly endless. He was named Collegiate Baseball Magazine's Junior College Coach of the Century, as well as the newspaper's Coach of the Decade for 1980's. He was named the national JC coach of the year five times and the top Texas JC coach six times. His uniform number (37) was retired by San Jacinto and he was inducted into the junior college hall of fame in May, 1995.
All of Graham's coaching accomplishments naturally led to his induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame at Fort Worth in 2003. He was inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.
What is left for a man who has 37-straight winning seasons at the high school and collegiate level and has won nearly 80 percent of his games on the collegiate level (1,445-453 in 30 seasons at Rice and San Jacinto)? A second national championship, to be precise. With Reckling Park as the Owls' home and the venue for eight NCAA Regionals in 2001-02-03-04-06-07-08-09, plus Super Regionals in 2002-03-06-07-08, Graham has all the pieces in place to sustain Rice at the highest level.
Graham and his wife Tanya live in Houston. She earned her Rice degree in human performance and exercise science in May, 1999.
Assistant Coach: Rice University
Former Owl letterman Patrick Hallmark (Brown College) is already in his sixth year coaching at his alma mater.
Hallmark is a hitting coach, but he also serves as a coach for the catchers and works on the defensive skills and positioning of the outfielders. He coaches at first base on game days and serves the program under head coach Wayne Graham by assisting in a variety of roles, and has recently added recruiting to his list of responsibilities.
By carrying out coach Graham's directives, Hallmark helped the Owls bat .326 as a team in 2010. The average was the fourth-highest single-season mark by an Owl team in school history -- and that's not just soft, drop-in, hits. Rice slugged 96 home runs (the third-highest single-season total in school history), 125 doubles and a Conference USA-leading 20 triples last season.
It's easy to see the improved hitting helped the Rice offense averaged an eye-opening 8.95 runs per game. The Blue and Gray was also among the NCAA and conference leaders in team slugging (.530) and on-base percentage (.417).
On defense, Hallmark's outfielders are well-trained, consistently put in the right spot, and reach a defensive-potential they might never even knew they had. Last season Rice outfielders threw-out a total of nine opposing runners who were attempting to reach an extra base.
A former catcher for coach Graham, Hallmark started 56 games in 1995 to help lead Rice to its first 40-win season in 11 years. In that second-to-last season of the Southwest Conference, he batted .354 against the league with a .430 slugging percentage, 57 runs, and 14 stolen bases in 16 attempts.
Hallmark was selected by Kansas City in the 18th round of the 1995 major league draft and played professionally for nine seasons. He reached the AAA level in the Royals' organization. Hallmark was part of three consecutive championship teams in the minor leagues from 1997-99.
Playing primarily as a catcher and outfielder, Hallmark hit over .300 three times and stole 30-plus bases five times in his pro playing career. He twice stole more than 40 bases (2000 and 2002) and was selected to play in two minor league all-star games.
Hallmark continued to pursue his Rice degree in the off-seasons and earned it in human performance in 2002. He played his final pro season in 2003 and began his coaching career. He worked one season at nearby St. Thomas High School before joining his collegiate alma mater.
A Houston native, Hallmark was a two-time all-district honoree in baseball in 1991 and 1992 at Westbury High School. He went on to earn all-conference honors at Alvin Community College in 1993 and 1994. He was named to the all-Southwest Conference team in 1995.
Hallmark is married to the former Jada Sanders of Kingwood, a 2001 Rice graduate (Sid Richardson) and four-year letterwinner and record holder for the Owls' swim team. Jada began serving as a volunteer coach for the swim team in the fall of 2006 and was promoted to assistant coach in 2007.
The couple have three children, Christian (5), Tanner (3) and Grayson, born in March of 2009.
Clay Van Hook
Assistant Coach: Rice University
Former McNeese State assistant Clay Van Hook has joined the Rice baseball coaching staff, head coach Wayne Graham announced on June 28.
Van Hook is the Owls' lone new member after serving the past two seasons as an assistant coach at McNeese State. Coach Graham stated he was pleased with the change that combines moving forward and evolving, while simultaneously paying respect to the past.
"Clay has been coaching a few years and he's from a baseball family who has been a student of the game his whole life,"Graham said. "His work-ethic is off the scale. He's been able to get the most out of his own ability and he will be able to do the same with the players around him.
"His father (Kyle Van Hook) was an assistant coach for me at San Jacinto for two years, and we won the national championship in both years (1989 & '90). The Van Hook family and I are 2-0 in winning national championships," Graham quipped.
While at McNeese State Van Hook worked with infielders, helped with the team's hitting, and served as the Cowboys' third base coach. He had a role in recruiting and helped MSU post its first winning record in four years in his very first season with the program in 2010.
The Brenham, Tex., native played one season at Navarro College before becoming a three-year letterman at the University of Texas. Van Hook earned second team all-Big 12 and was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the major league draft. He earned his degree at Texas in 2008 while serving one season as a student-coach. In addition to his on-field duties at Rice, Van Hook will take over the administering of the Owls' popular Youth Baseball Camps (a role formerly held by current assistant coach Patrick Hallmark).