The power of Palombo


Andrew Walker

Tom Palombo holds the net after winning the 2017 ODAC Championship.//Photo By Andrew Walker/The Guilfordian.

On Jan.19 Tom Palombo reached 300 career wins as Guilford’s men’s basketball head coach.

“Guilford is a great place,” said Palombo. “I have enjoyed my time here and feel fortunate to have coached so many great players and worked with some great coaches who have helped us build this program into something special.”

In addition to achieving his 300th win for Guilford, the same also game marked Palombo’s 400th overall as a college head coach in general, he’s the 35th active Division III men’s basketball coach to have reached this distinction.

Guilford Men's Basketball Head Coach Tom Palombo 300th win at Guilford
This headshot was taken in 2003 when Palombo was hired as Guilford’s men’s basketball head coach.//Photo courtesy Guilford Athletics/

Palombo came to Guilford for the 2003-04 season, taking over a program that had only had one winning season since 1988-89. The turnaround that came for the program with Palombo joining has been immense. Since becoming the head coach, Palombo has guided the team to a winning season every year except a 13-14 record in 2005-06.

Palombo’s first game as Guilford’s head coach was memorable:  the team achieved a 98-96 overtime victory over Catholic University on Nov. 21, 2003.

“We played Catholic University at their tournament. We had something like a 20-point lead in the first half, lost our point guard to an injury, went down by like 20 points in the second half then came back to win in overtime,” said Palombo.

The Quakers have had some very good years, including making it to the Final Four in 2009. Making the Final Four is one of Palombo’s most memorable moments of his coaching career.

“We won our Elite 8 game in overtime after being down by 12 points with just 4 minutes left in the game,” said Palombo.  “It was an unbelievable comeback.”

From 2007-2010, the team made four straight NCAA Division III tournament appearances but fell short of Palombo’s goal of winning a National Championship.

“Our goal every year is to win the ODAC Championship. That is really hard to do because our league is one of the best in the country,” said Palombo. “If you can win the league, you can be competitive at the national level.” 

In the 16 years Palombo has been coaching at Guilford, there have been multiple changes to the position; most notably, the recruiting aspect.

“Recruiting has become incredibly competitive. The coaches in our program have been great recruiters for Guilford College. We see a minimum of six games every week during the season and there are always coaches at the games recruiting the same players we are recruiting,” said Palombo. “During the summer, we are always on the road and again, it has become so competitive.”

The Quakers have been able to recruit a lot of talented student-athletes over the years, with 21 All-ODAC commendation to 13 players. Ben Strong ’08 and Tyler Sanborn ’10 both won NABC Division III Player of the Year awards under Palombo.

“We have been able to recruit great young men to our program. We recruit character first,” said Palombo. “The assistant coaches I have worked with over the years have been fantastic. The reason we have built such a strong program is due to the work they have done. It is a team effort. The biggest key has been the work they have done in recruiting and helping manage the program on a day to day basis.” 

Palombo has guided the team to five NCAA Division III Tournament appearances and three ODAC Tournament championships since 2003. Not only have the team and players received honors, Palombo has been named the Bob Johnson ODAC Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year four times.

“I may get the award, but this is not even close to a one-man operation. The success we have had is a team effort starting with our coaches and players. We work every day to make sure we are all on the same page and moving in the same direction,” said Palombo. “It is critical to make sure everyone understands their role and how important they are to the success of the team. 

For Palombo, his time coaching basketball at Guilford has been successful and rewarding.

“I get to come to work every day and work with great people and coach a sport I love,” said Palombo. “I enjoy being around the guys and seeing them improve both individually and as a team.”

A point of pride for Palombo is that many of his players and assistant coaches have gone on to become head coaches on the collegiate and high school level.

With 302 wins as the Guilford head coach, Palombo stands second in school history to former head coach Jack Jensen; he needs 84 wins to equal Jensen. At the current pace, he could reach that mark in less than five years.

Palombo will try for his 303rd win on Feb. 2 as they host Hampden-Sydney College.