Arkansas-Fort Smith Basketball Staff Update

University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Men’s Basketball Head Coach Zane Gibson has assembled his coaching staff for the 2023-24 season.

Joining Gibson at UAFS from his staff at Western New Mexico are assistant coach Jared Drake and volunteer assistant coach Jeremy Zepeda, with Brett O’Neil also returning as an assistant coach. Caleb Ligon will serve as a student assistant to the program.

Drake coached with Gibson for one season at WNMU, helping guide the Mustangs to a 17-11 record, the program’s first winning season in 16 years. The Mustangs also won 11 Lone Star Conference games, the most in program history.

“I am very excited to have Coach Drake make the move with me from Western New Mexico to UAFS,” Gibson said. “Coach Drake does a tremendous job developing relationships with the guys. He is a dynamic skill developer having worked with current and future NBA players and brings a great deal of knowledge to our staff. We welcome Coach Drake to Fort Smith and can’t wait for him to be with our young men when they return in August.”

Prior to WNMU, Drake was the head coach at NJCAA Southeastern Illinois College for two seasons and also had coaching stops at Riley High School, Philander Smith College (AR) and Evansville Central High School.

Before his coaching career, Drake played at Robert Morris College in Chicago.  After a two-year stay there, Drake transferred his eligibility to Southern University of New Orleans (La.) where he was awarded “Newcomer of the Year,” along with being ranked in the top-five in the nation in three-point shooting percentage and free throw shooting percentage.

After graduation, Drake continued his playing career on the professional level for three developmental league teams in the U. S. and in the European League.

Drake has received three degrees, an Associate’s in Health and Fitness Exercise Science (Robert Morris), a Bachelor of Applied Science in Management Information Systems (Southern University) and a Master of Science in Recreation and Sports Sciences, Coaching Education (Ohio University).

O’Neil joined the Lions’ coaching staff in 2021 and has assisted in coaching five All-Conference players in his two seasons. He helped the Lions earn a bid in the LSC Tournament in 2021-22. Prior to UAFS, O’Neil was an assistant at Hill College for one season and a graduate assistant at Cameron University from 2018-20.

“Brett has made a great impact within the Lions community in his two years here,” stated Gibson. “I did not know Coach O’Neil when I took the job, but he received unbelievable reviews from faculty and staff both in and out of the athletic department. We started working together when I first got here and quickly realized I wanted Brett to stay here and work for me.”

O’Neil played two seasons at Dodge City Community College before finishing his playing career at Central Missouri. He graduated from Central Missouri with degree in Elementary Education and earned his Master of Education degree from Cameron.

“Brett is as hard of a worker as they come and has a passion for Fort Smith and the current players on the roster. He has a bright future in this industry, and I’m excited he chose to stay on with me at UAFS,” Gibson added.

Zepeda played one season at Central Arizona College before moving into the coaching ranks, assisting the Vaqueros for three seasons. Following his time in Arizona, Zepeda joined Gibson’s staff at WNMU as a graduate assistant for the program’s historic 2022-23 campaign. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business degree.

“Jeremy is a young, hungry coach who is very dedicated to the game of basketball and was an unbelievable asset to my staff least year at Western New Mexico,” Gibson said. “He is a first guy in the office last person to leave type of guy. He is an excellent evaluator of talent and is as diligent as they come when it comes to film study. Jeremy could be an absolute star in our business, and he along with Coach Drake know how I do things day to day and that continuity between us will greatly accelerate the growth of our program.”

Ligon enters his second season as a student assistant for the Lions in 2023-24 after assisting the Lions with day-to-day operations and travel. He was also a student assistant at Williams Baptist University in 2021-22. He is pursuing a degree in Organizational Leadership.

“Caleb is a blue-collar, lunch pail guy,” noted Gibson. “For being a student assistant, he is one of the more advanced young men I have ever been around in the industry. I tried to kick Caleb out of the office from time to time in the spring and he just wouldn’t leave until everything was done for the day. He takes pride in everything he does, and no job is too big or small for him. He just attacks every assignment I give him and helps set the standard of how hard we will work in this program.”

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