EDMOND — A job as graduate assistant under Larry Gipson at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College was the springboard for Tom Hankins’ coaching career.

Hankins, who also played two seasons for Gipson at NEO in the mid-1980s, is entering his third season as men’s basketball coach at Central Oklahoma.

He’s 33-26 in two seasons at UCO, leading the Bronchos to the quarterfinals of the MIAA Tournament both times.

“It’s been an adjustment from where I’ve been, but it’s a great place, a nice place to live and raise a family,” Hankins said. “That’s one of the reasons I was interested in the job. It’s a nice location and UCO is such a great school. It’s huge. It offers all different kinds of majors and different options, plus it’s got a good tradition as well.”

Hankins came to UCO from Southern Illinois-Carbondale for three seasons as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator with Barry Hinson.

Prior to that, Hankins was at Oral Roberts for 15 years, two with Hinson then 13 with Scott Sutton.

Longtime Miami High School fans will remember Hinson from his successful stint at Tulsa Kelley from 1987 to 1993.

A graduate of Tulsa Edison High School — he was the Eagles’ career assists leader — Hankins played at Northeastern A&M from 1984-86.

The Golden Norsemen were 18-12 and finished fourth in the Bi-State Conference in his freshman season then improved to 25-9, good for second in the Bi-State and Region 2 Tournament.

After finishing up at Northeastern State in Tahlequah in 1989, Hankins had a chance to work with Gipson as a graduate assistant for the 1989-90 season.

“He is very demanding to play for,” Hankins said. “He has been a really good mentor for me professionally, getting me into this business. He’s been a good resource and a guy I have always looked up to.”

Hankins also had coaching stops at Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas, Northwest Missouri and Tulsa East Central High School before joining Hinson’s staff at ORU in 1997.

ORU captured five Summit League championships and made three NCAA Division I national tournament appearances during Hankins’ tenure there.

He also helped recruit forward Caleb Green, who scored 2,503 points and grabbed 1,189 rebounds during his career while winning Summit League Player of the Year honors three times.

UCO was 16-14 and finished fifth in the MIAA in his first season at UCO.

The Bronchos posted wins over NCAA Division II playoff teams Fort Hays State and Nebraska-Kearney and logged a first-round MIAA Tournament home game before falling in the quarterfinals.

The Bronchos shared fourth and finished 17-12 in 2016-17.

Again UCO won a first-round MIAA Tournament game before falling in the quarterfinals.

Hankins is optimistic about the upcoming season.

“We will have five Division I transfers, three of which are Oklahoma kids that went to Division I schools then transferred back to the state,” Hankins said. “That is the beauty of UCO: if those guys go Division I and things don’t work out, they can transfer here. Because of our location and size of our school, I just think it’s a great transfer destination.”

Hankins said the MIAA “is kinda like the ACC of Division I. We get multiple (Division II playoff) bids almost every year.”

Two of the last three DII national champs have come from the MIAA: Northwest Missouri last year and Central Missouri in 2013-14 under coach Kim Anderson, who is back in the league at Pittsburg State after a three-season stint at Missouri.

“It’s just a highly, highly competitive league,” Hankins said.

“The bottom line is recruiting,” he said. “The way our scholarship situation is structured, we’ve got to get a lot of Oklahoma kids. We have to recruit Oklahoma really well. What we are doing is get a good mix of Oklahoma kids, junior college transfers and Division I transfers.”

Jim Ellis is sports editor of the Miami News-Record. He can be reached by phone at 918-542-5508 or by email at jellis@miaminewsrecord.com. Follow him on Twitter @mnrsportsguy.