Some few faces in old schools this fall hope to trigger a genesis for basketball…where basketball has long since been forgotten.
Mike Piatt described his first days on the job this week as the new head basketball coach at Milton Union High School.
“Great facilities, two unbelievable gyms,” he said. “The kids are great, the support from administration is great, I haven’t heard a negative word.”
Uhhh…it’s June, Mike. Give it time.
But his words characterize the enthusiasm of new coaches taking over area basketball programs in new places this summer where change was either inevitable…or necessitated by human circumstance and the desire to scratch the age-old desire to simply compete.
“It happens,” said Oak Hil’s Norm Persin after leaving one of the most successful coaching tenures in state when the moved from Chesapeake ten years ago to take the Oak Hill job. “Sometimes it’s out of convenience (Persin lives in Oak Hill). Sometimes it’s just necessary, better for all parties.”
Persin, by the way, after taking Chesapeake to the regional round of the tournament multiple times without ever getting to Columbus, promptly took Oak Hill there in his first year…and won the Division IV title.
Like the man says, it happens.
Shakespeare once wrote about a season of discontent, but he never knew anything, or even dreamed about, high school sports, coaches, and their never-ending urge to build, or rebuild, and win.
Such was the fact this spring when it was announced that long-time Houston coach, John Willoughby, would leave the Wildcats to go to Division I Sidney, where he becomes an assistant principal and the Yellow Jackets latest coach…in a succession of latest coaches.
“I just felt like I was done at Houston after 31 years, that I no longer had a message there,” said Willoughby. You can hear his entire explanation on the current “First Person” interview on Press Pros.
“I had thought about this job (Sidney) in the past. I live in Sidney. I felt like this was the time.”
To take his place at Houston, long-time Russia assistant Brad Francis becomes the Wildcats new coach.
At Versailles, a program anticipated to achieve much during the cycle of Ahrens brothers (Kyle, Justin, and A.J.) JV coach Travis Swank takes over this summer after the resignation of Scott McEldowney.
Other programs, Greenville and Minster, await replacements for Mike Bashore and Mike Lee, respectively, who stepped aside after the 2016 season.
But it’s at Sidney, where freshman phenom Andre Gordon served notice last winter that the Jackets had the athleticism to turn heads and challenge anyone in the GWOC (north, south, east and west) that the coaching change will be watched most closely to see if Willoughby’s sterling reputation of getting the most out of raw talent can again become manifest. A long shot when it happened, he took Houston to the Division IV state tournament in 2011.
“We have talent,” admits Willoughby. “But we’re young. And it remains to be seen if all those kids come back to play basketball. I’ve never had football to deal with like I have here, and a lot of our kids play football. And that’s great. I played three sports in high school and I think our kids should play the other sports, too.”
But so far, so good, from what he’s seen in open gym.
“We’ve got to play, and some of our kids haven’t played a lot of basketball,” says Willoughby. “But the kids have been great so far. They’ve been great.” he added with emphasis.
There is no such anticipation at Milton Union, where Mike Piatt assumes the reins of a program that has long lain in dormancy. The Bulldogs are a football school in a football league (the Southwest Buckeye League), where seldom has basketball been more than a conditioning sport between one football season to the next. Franklin (in the big school division) and Northridge have been recent exceptions.
“We’ll see,” says Piatt, who coached Lehman to 18 wins and a berth in the district finals a decade ago before being fired. Most recently he served as bench assistant to Joe Staley at Chaminade and as the interim coach at Tipp City when Jim Staley left in mid-season.
“We’re going to work hard and we’re going to play hard,” says Piatt, happy for the opportunity to again compete. “We have a couple of kids who show some talent and we only have two seniors. We’ve got a long way to go, but I’m encouraged by what I see.”
It is their desire to teach the game, sure, that motivates 31-year veterans like John Willoughby to pick up the pieces and build again. But more, it’s their desire to compete and share the thrill of winning with the next cycle of athletes…to scratch that age-old itch that comes from having once played the game. Willoughby was an excellent high school player at Willard, Ohio, and later at Miami University.
“I’m a competitor,” admits Willoughby. “I like competitive kids. I like intense kids and that’s the way I try to get my teams to play.”
Pausing for a moment, he added. “What would it say about me if I didn’t want this opportunity (job), or if I was afraid to do it. I felt there was a lot more coaching in me. I love coaching, I love being in the gym, and I knew I wasn’t done with that.”
Such is a season…of discontent!