WHEN HIS FRIENDS asked why he would take a Division II coaching job, Doug Overton has been answering simply: "Why not?"

I was with Overton 25 years ago when he was student teaching at an elementary school near La Salle University. If he had not had a long NBA career, he probably would have become a schoolteacher. Starting now, he will be "teaching" basketball at Lincoln University in the rolling hills of southern Chester County.

"It's great for me to be a part of a school as prestigious as Lincoln University," Overton said after he was introduced as the Lions coach Thursday morning at Lincoln's Market Street campus.

This won't just be a coaching job for Overton. He knows the university and its history.

"I had family members that graduated from Lincoln," Overton said. "They were some of the first in our family to go to college. I remember going to those graduations at Lincoln and that inspired me to further myself."

When Overton, 46, began to recall some of that family/Lincoln history, he got emotional as he thought about his Uncle Joe, his cousins and niece, who is a Lincoln freshman. When he was on campus talking about the job, he saw the Underground Railroad meeting rooms.

"I've been in those places; I know that ground is sacred," Overton said.

If Lincoln weren't introducing Doug Overton, it would not have called a news conference in the city. He was going to attract reporters and cameras because of who he is and what he's done.

Overton was a sophomore on the great Dobbins Tech team that won the 1985 Public League championship. Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were certainly the team's stars, but Overton earned his spot. He became a Big 5 Hall of Famer at La Salle, where he still holds the school records for assists and steals. He was the junior point guard on the 1989-90 La Salle team that was one of the most exciting in city history and finished 30-2.

"He is certainly someone who knows how to leave a mark," said Darryl Pope, Lincoln's athletic director. "He was a point guard for a reason. He makes things happen and creates opportunity for others. This has been his life's work."

After his 11-season NBA career, Overton was an assistant coach in college and the NBA. He was also the head coach of the Nets' D-League team in Springfield, Mass. After working Sixers games for Comcast SportsNet, Overton decided he wanted to coach again.

Lincoln, founded in 1854, is the oldest historically black college in the United States. Its alums included Robert N.C. Nix, the first black U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania (1958) and Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice (1967).

"I'm looking for great things for you," Lincoln president Richard Green told Overton.

Overton is looking for great things for himself. He was a confident player, always a leader. The players will learn from a teacher who has been preparing for this moment his whole life.

"I don't feel like this is something I'm not ready for," Overton said. "I'm prepared. I've been preparing myself for a long time for this. I always wanted to be a teacher. I graduated from La Salle as an education major, and here's my chance to teach at the college level."

Pope said the university had 123 applicants for the job.

"Doug's name stood out," he said. "We looked at not only his playing career, but his ties to the area and the impact he could have."

Overton promised that his team will play as he played, "not going to make anything comfortable for anybody that we play against."

"When they talk about 94 feet, we'll pick teams up in the parking lot," Overton said. "We'll be standing by the bus."

It is how Overton learned the game, how he will teach it. And he will make certain it all has wider meaning.

"This is what I dreamed about," the new Lincoln University coach said. "To coach at a university, to have an impact at this level for young people, this shapes your life."

Overton's life was shaped at La Salle. Now, he will shape other lives at Lincoln.

"It's bigger than me," Doug Overton said. "It's bigger than just the basketball team."

@DickJerardi