Coastal Carolina Men’s Basketball Staff Update

New Coastal Carolina head basketball coach Justin Gray has added Jayson Gee as the associate head coach / chief of staff, Ryne Lightfoot as an assistant coach / defensive coordinator, and Zach Freesman as an assistant coach / offensive coordinator. All three were with him at Western Carolina.

Bio’s are below:

Jayson Gee

CCU is the third program Gee has worked with head coach Justin Gray as the duo worked together at both Western Carolina and Winthrop.

A 30-year coaching veteran, Gee has served as both a head and assistant coach. Before working on the Cullowhee campus, Gee spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Cincinnati after serving as the associate head coach at Winthrop (2018-19).

He made the move to Winthrop from Longwood where he was the Lancers’ head coach from 2013-18. Along with Longwood, he has also served as the head coach at the University of Charleston (W.Va.) from 1996-2003. Combined, he has a career head coaching record of 202-175 over 11 seasons.

Gee served as an assistant and associate coach at Cleveland State (2006-13), where he helped lead the Vikings’ to three NIT bids and an NCAA tournament appearance. He was also named one of the nation’s top 10 assistant coaches by

In the 2009 NCAA Tournament, Gee’s team at Cleveland State defeated fourth-seeded Wake Forest in the first round.
Gee was also an assistant coach at St. Bonaventure (2003-06), Ohio (1993-96), and at Youngstown State (1989-93).

The veteran basketball coach is also the author of “The Battle for Brandon,” a book that is a dramatic and compelling story about Jayson Gee and his wife, Lynette, and their son Brandon’s courageous fight against child onset paranoid schizophrenia. The Gee family also worked with mass media veteran Chad Bonham to transform the book into a documentary that has received endorsements from Emmy Nominated and Golden Globe Award winning actress Jennifer Garner, WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings, and former Pittsburgh Steeler Antwaan Randle El.

Gee was one of 18 selected for the 2008 ACE (Achieving Coaching Excellence) Program in Indianapolis. Sponsored by the NCAA Black Coaches and Administrators Council, the ACE Program prepares minority collegiate coaches for success as future head coaches.

Originally from Springfield, Ohio, Gee played four years at the University of Charleston in West Virginia, helping the program to a record of 92-30, including 30-5 during his sophomore season. A two-year team captain, Gee finished his collegiate career third in both rebounds (844) and games played (122). He was inducted into the Charleston Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003 after previously being inducted into the Springfield South High Hall of Fame in 2000.

Gee earned his bachelor of science degree in social science education from Charleston in 1988, and his Master of Science degree in sport science and administration from Ohio University in 2003.

Jayson and his wife, Lynette, have two sons, Brandon and Bryan, and a daughter, Briana.

Ryne Lightfoot 

He helped lead the Catamounts to a top four Southern Conference regular season finish and two appearances in the semifinal round of the SoCon tournament. The Catamounts also found post-season experience with an appearance in the College Basketball Invitation (CBI).

While with the Catamounts, Lightfoot’s main responsibilities included running, implementing, and developing the Catamount defensive system, which improved from last place in the league in 2021-22 to finishing third overall in 2022-23. He also worked directly with scouting and recruiting. His leadership in skill development helped three Catamounts – guards Vonteriuous Woolbright and Tre Jackson, as well as post Tyzhaun Claude – each earn postseason All-Southern Conference accolades following the 2022-23 season.

He also stepped into the acting head coaching role in Gray’s absence in his first season on the WCU staff, assuming the role the day before WCU’s road game at Tennessee Tech. Shifting into the head coach’s seat, Lightfoot called the shots in guiding the Catamounts to a 75-65 road victory in Cookeville, Tenn.

Prior to coming to Cullowhee, Lightfoot spent the previous two seasons as the Director of Player Development at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz. During his time with the Lopes, Lightfoot helped lead the squad to a combined 40 wins, the 2020-21 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) regular-season and tournament championships, and to the university’s first-ever appearance in the postseason with a berth in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Before his time at Grand Canyon, Lightfoot spent the previous eight seasons on the coaching staff at his alma mater, Bethel University in Mishawaka, Ind. In his first six seasons, Lightfoot was an assistant coach under his father, Mike Lightfoot.

Then in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, the younger Lightfoot took over as the head coach, posting a record of 43-21 in those two seasons. His squad finished his final season ranked 20th in the NAIA poll and was advanced as high as No. 6 in the country in 2018. Throughout his coaching tenure at Bethel, the Pilots went 171-65 with three Crossroads League titles and a pair of appearances in the quarterfinal round of the NAIA national tournament.

Lightfoot played for the Pilots for four seasons, recording 2,075 points and 702 assists to rank 10th and fifth, respectively, all-time in the program record books. He added over 500 career rebounds. He was one of three players at the time with over 2,000 points, 700 assists, and 500 rebounds at the NAIA level, joining NBA Hall of Famer, Scottie Pippen and former Bethel guard Rico Swanson. Lightfoot was a five-time All-American and was awarded the 2010 NCCAA Pete Maravich Award, presented to the men’s basketball student-athlete recognized for excellence in competition, skill, academics, and Christian service during his career. He was also a member of Bethel University’s 2018 Athletics Hall of Fame class.

Lightfoot graduated from Northwood High as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,673 points and is a member of the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame.

Ryne is originally from Wakarusa, Ind., and was married to his wife Justine in 2010.

Zack Freesman 

Freesman played a big part in helping turn around the Catamount men’s basketball program. Upon hiring Freesman, Gray appointed him as the team’s offensive and special situations coordinator. Under Freesman’s leadership, Western Carolina’s offensive efficiency jumped over 140 other teams from year one to year two. The Catamounts also saw major improvements in baseline out of bounds efficiency, climbing 125 spots nationally.

At the end of the 2021-22 season, Freesman was promoted for his outstanding work in the organization of the Catamounts recruiting efforts, named the program’s recruiting coordinator. Freesman was instrumental in guiding several top prospects to Cullowhee including three preseason all-conference selections. Vonterius Woolbright, the 2023-24 SoCon Preseason Player of the Year, joined the Catamounts from the junior college ranks. Preseason All-SoCon selections Tre Jackson and Russell Jones Jr. also came to WCU from Big 12-member Iowa State and Winthrop, respectively, Jones Jr. following Freesman to the mountains having previously been coached by him at Winthrop University. For the 2023-24 season, Freesman helped land incoming redshirt freshman and LSU transfer, Corneilous Williams to Catamount Country.

Freesman oversaw the Catamount nonconference schedule which produced a record 15 home contests last season, the most since 2009. He also helped ink a matchup with ACC foe Notre Dame, who the Catamounts defeated on the road. In addition, Freesman served as the program’s alumni coordinator, fostering relationships and connecting former Catamounts with ones currently on roster. As well, he created a newsletter, “The Update From The Whee”, which was sent out monthly not only to alumni, but also to friends and family of the program.

Before joining Gray at Western Carolina, Freesman served head coach Pat Kelsey as the Director of Basketball Operations at Winthrop University. While in Rock Hill, Freesman helped the Eagles qualify for back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.

During the 2018-19 season, Freesman was Winthrop’s Video Coordinator and was responsible for all video operations, including editing, cutting games and film exchange.

Prior to his time at Winthrop, Freesman spent two seasons at VCU as a graduate assistant.  During his time, the Rams won 44 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2017. Freesman completed his master’s degree coursework in sport leadership while at VCU.

A 2016 graduate of the University of North Florida, Freesman earned his bachelor’s degree in sport management with minors in business and community leadership. He spent four years as a manager for the Ospreys’ men’s basketball program and was named head manager for the final two. In 2015, the Ospreys won back-to-back Atlantic Sun Conference Championships and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

Originally from Weston, Fla., Freesman graduated from Cypress Bay High School in 2012. He and his wife, Jillian, were married in May of 2021.

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