The life-blood of any college basketball coach is their relationship with high school coaches. The toughest adjustment for me when I came to Northwest in 1999 was trying to establish solid relationships with Missouri coaches.
I had spent 15 years cultivating rapport with Nebraska coaches while the women’s basketball coach at Doane College. I had a real feeling of comfort with most of the Nebraska girls’ high school coaches when searching the state for the top recruits. In 1999, I had to start all over.
Some of the most memorable and best high school coaches get my mention during this blog. I have to start with Ed Johnson. Coach Johnson was the long-time and very successful boys’ coach at Lincoln Northeast High School.
I never had a personal relationship with Coach Johnson. As I was growing up and a college student at Kearney State College in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I was fascinated by the post-season success of Lincoln Northeast and a couple of other Nebraska high school boys’ programs.
I was a senior in college when I wrote five coaches including Coach Johnson on how they managed to have their team peak in February and March each year. Coach Johnson was the only one that answered. He sent me a five-page, handwritten letter. The message was clear and very important; stress fundamentals. That was one lesson I never forgot.
In my first year or two at Doane College, I spent many hours at clinics that preached coaching basketball from famous coaches. I never established any kind of friendship or professional relationship with the famous coaches, but I did meet a very good high school coach.
His name was Jerry Beach and he was a boys’ high school coach at Sterling, NE. I had actually met him a couple of years earlier when my future state championship team at Wilber-Clatonia High School played in a holiday tournament he organized at Bradshaw, NE.
Jerry had basketball smarts, was a tough disciplinarian, and could really handle high school kids. While at Sterling, he won a state championship with his boys’ team. Sadly, for the coaching profession, Jerry entered public school administration. The pay for administrators is attractive. It’s a route many coaches take during their career in education.
Two former players of mine are great coaches no one will ever acknowledge. Angie (Miller) Schnaker was a first-team super-stater at Wilber-Clatonia High School. She was a four-year starter at the University of Nebraska. She began coaching in western Nebraska where she took her team to a state tournament.
Her husband, Rick, and Angie moved to Humboldt, NE. She coached for the local school district but never experienced the same success. Great coaching did not play a part in any lack of success. Angie never had the talent that would allow her to win many post-season games. However, the high school players at Humboldt always received great coaching.
A huge fault of coaching is skill is often judged on success. Since her daughter’s graduation, Angie has taught but not coached. That’s a real shame for the students that pass through her school district.
Administration claimed another would-be great high school coach. Trudi (Veerhusen) Nolan was a fantastic point guard for me at Doane College. She began her coaching career at Geneva High School. I watched her team play during the season and at basketball camps. They were well-coached and Trudi had tremendous skill at handling her players.
She spent a little time as an assistant coach at Westside High School in Omaha, NE. Now she is an assistant athletic director. She has raised a family and stayed in the field of education, but players could have really benefitted from her coaching abilities.
Trudi’s high school coach, Ken Cook, did experience success. Ken never professes to have great basketball knowledge. He did, however, have great coaching knowledge. Everyone knew what you would see with his teams, but few could stop it.
I’m not sure this is the correct number, but I think Ken won six state basketball championships while coaching at Adams High School. Two of those came with Trudi as his point guard. Ken also was a founding member of the Pinnacle Basketball Program. Pinnacle sponsors one of the top high school club teams in Nebraska.
The school eventually eliminated the Industrial Arts program at the school. That forced Ken out of the school district and out of coaching. Adams will never see another coach like Ken Cook.
More recently, I began a couple of more coaching friendships, both on the professional and personal level, with Nebraska high school coaches. Matt Fritsche and Scott Jensen coach Bellevue West and Bellevue East High Schools, respectively. Both are great coaches and have dominated Nebraska high school prep basketball at the large class level.
I knew Matt had successful high school teams, but I never knew what a great coach he was until one late July night at a basketball tournament in Kearney. Matt was coaching a very young Omaha Crusader team. Their opponent was a big, experienced club team from Kansas City.
The Kansas City team had one player that would eventually end up at Kansas State. Several others played division one basketball after high school. Matt’s team was small and had a lot less talent. However, with his steady hand, the Crusaders that were huge underdogs took down the heavy favorite.
As a recruiter from Northwest, I wasn’t supposed to root for a certain team. However, I could barely contain my enthusiasm for the Crusaders. Most of the college coaches had left by the time this game was played. It may have been late but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
Scott and Matt married sisters and are brother-in-laws. Both have won state championships. The pair has sent players to Northwest. Matt and Scott have been very honest about their player’s skills. Their players have been good players at Northwest.
I met a high school coach from the Kansas City area several years ago when he took a chance and came to my team camp at Northwest. Steve Ingram coaches at Olathe South High School. His teams consistently are ranked in the top five in Kansas’s large class girls’ basketball.
What I love about Steve is how he handles his teams at camp. He makes sure they are organized, have lodging and are fed while in Maryville. After that, the players’ coach themselves. Don’t get me wrong, Steve is never far from the Olathe South huddle. However, all decisions are made by his team.
After each game, Steve meets with the team and talks about those decisions. His team will take their coach’s advice and go into battle in the next camp game. I love his calm approach and analytical advice. It’s no surprise to me the way his team succeeds each winter.
There are many more coaches I could mention. I probably have cheated many great coaches because I have already carried on for almost 1200 words. Any success I have achieved in my college coaching career is directly related to the high school coaches I have known over the years.
If I will miss anything about coaching it will be the coach to coach relationships I have formed over my years in the profession. Some people place themselves above other coaches. I call it “getting big-timed.” Anyone who “big-times” someone else misses a great opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about coaching.