WILDWOOD - Frank Vogel stepped onto the stage of the Wildwood High School auditorium with a stand-up routine for a 1991 school talent show.
His jokes bombed.
"I heard crickets," he said.
On Tuesday, Vogel stepped back onto the stage - this time as the coach of the NBA's Indiana Pacers.
The 1991 Wildwood graduate heard cheers and received a standing ovation from the student body.
Wildwood honored the 40-year-old Vogel. School officials presented him with a banner that will hang in the school gymnasium. Wildwood retired the number 22, which Vogel wore when he played for the Wildwood Warriors.
Vogel donated $5,000 to the Wildwood High School scholarship fund.
"This is very humbling," Vogel said. "It's great to see a lot of old friends. Every time you turn your head you get a different memory from your high school days."
Vogel has coached the Pacers since January 2011. He led Indiana to the Eastern Conference finals last season, where the Pacers lost to the LeBron James and the Miami Heat in seven games. The Pacers have won 60 percent of their games (111-74), under Vogel.
Vogel's journey to becoming an NBA coach is an improbable one. There are 30 NBA head coaching jobs and Wildwood with an enrollment of around 300 is one of the smallest public schools in the state.
"It's mind boggling," said retired Wildwood teacher and current Warriors girls basketball coach Dave Troiano. "You have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a job as an NBA coach."
Vogel brought a message of perseverance and passion to the school. He told the students to dream big. It wasn't so long ago that he was sitting where the students were Tuesday.
"Everybody is this room is passionate about something," Vogel said. "Follow your passion and follow your dream. Try to follow your passion in a way that you can make a career out of it. If you're able to combine your passion with your career, you're going to be tremendously successful because you'll continue to do it because it's fun."
He grew up in Wildwood Crest and basketball consumed him at an early age. He developed into a solid high school player. He averaged seven points and seven assists as a Wildwood senior.
Vogel's unlikely rise to NBA coach began in 1994 when he transferred from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., to the University of Kentucky with the hopes of getting involved in the program run by then-coach Rick Pitino.
"A lot of people doubted me," Vogel said. "It was then I learned the value of persistence and not listening to those that doubt you."
After 14 years in the NBA as a video coordinator and an assistant coach, the Pacers named Vogel head coach on Jan. 30, 2011.
"You have to focus on the task at hand," Vogel said. "Don't worry about the test that's coming in two weeks - focus on that day's homework assignment or in-school assignment. The rest of your success will follow that."
Vogel also gave the students some inside information., He told them how he's inspired the Pacers in the playoffs by showing the players clips from "Rocky II" and "Rocky III."
But most of all he told them just how special Wildwood is. He recalled how a fire destroyed his home and destroyed everything his family owned during his senior year. Vogel said within a few weeks the community had raised $10,000 for the family.
"I could never have achieved the success I've had without the lessons I learned right here in Wildwood," he said. "This is a special place, a tight-knit community. Everyone cares about each other. It's a special thing to be a part of."
Vogel signed autographs and posed for pictures with students after his speech. He flew in for the day from Indiana and was in no rush to leave.
"It's nice that he never forgot where he came from," said current Wildwood senior and basketball and football standout Jose Valentine. "He was a Warrior and now he's an NBA coach. It's inspirational."
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