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The adage is the best players don't make the best coaches. Lyndsie Long is putting that to the test.
The 2006 Kaneland graduate and Elmhurst College all-American basketball player is in her first year at Downers Grove South teaching physical education and health, and coaching the girls varsity basketball team. The young head coach's debut was Tuesday in a 62-43 loss to Providence.
"The nerves were getting to me all day, especially leading up to the last hour or so before the game," Long said. "I felt like I was about ready to play the game. That's how I used to feel. But right when the game started I lost all of that and had the sense of being where I was."
And that is a pretty decent destination, succeeding 20-year, 350-game winner Ellen O'Brien, who resigned to become an administrator.
"I'm right where I want to be," said Long, whose debut was attended by her usual supporters, parents Dan and Lisa.
Lyndsie graduated from Elmhurst College with a physical education major and health minor, tried coaching stops at St. Joseph's College in Indiana and Concordia in River Forest, but the college experience was not for her. After a bit role at York High School, where she worked as an aide in special education, she tried for a job at Downers South and landed two.
"It's in DuPage County, a school of over 3,000 students, so being blessed to even get an interview there in my first career opportunity was amazing, and to get a job there was awesome," she said. "Put it all together, being a teacher and a coach, it's the best of both worlds."
At Elmhurst College, the 5-foot-10 forward ended her career in 2010 as a Women's Basketball Coaches Association and D3Hoops.com all-American and the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Most Outstanding Player. Her 24.3 points per game that season ranked third in the nation. Among her several program records were points in a game, 45, and in a career, 1,866.
As a senior a chance to play overseas after graduation fell through.
"That kind of opened my eyes to, what the heck am I going to do now?" she said. "I still wanted to be around the game."
Long had a supporter and mentor in Bluejays coach Tethnie Carrillo. Knowing Long's career goals, her passion for basketball and ability to play like "an extension of the coaching staff," Carrillo spoke with the team captain about the possibility of coaching. Carrillo nominated her for the WBCA's "So You Want to Be a Coach" program; Long attended the clinic held at the NCAA Women's Final Four in San Antonio.
"She'd be able to direct players to be in a spot and just really be a team leader out there, which showed you some early flashes of what she'd be as a coach. And as a senior, how she dealt with the freshman, she just had one of those ways where she was very helpful," Carrillo said.
"I know that she wants to give back, I know that she wants to help other young women achieve her goals like she did."
Carrillo admitted players of Long's caliber don't always translate to quality coaches, but added that once a player steps over to the coaching side "they can see the fuller picture."
That dawned on Long as Downers Grove South played Providence on Tuesday. Owning the philosophy that defense leads to offense, Long said she was proud of the Mustangs, who clung within 6 points by halftime before the game got away.
"Playing tonight they actually saw that if you're doing the things I've asked you to do, it really works," she said.
At Kaneland, her highlight was facing Naperville Central in a sectional semifinal her junior season. She doesn't get back much to the alma mater, but perhaps that will change with high school friend Kelsey Flanagan assisting with the Knights girls squad. They could compare notes on their young careers.
"If I could say at age 25 that I'd be teaching at Downers Grove South and coaching the varsity team I'd say that I'm out of my mind," Long said. "Every day I just thank God that I am where I'm at, and I'm just so fortunate to be where I'm at. I'll just keep working hard at it and get better every day."
Goes without saying
Were there a local prep sports name hall of fame, this young man would be in it: Geneva junior Jake Rocks.
Vikings head boys basketball coach Phil Ralston confirmed it: "Jake does Rock."
The St. Charles East wrestling and boys basketball programs on Jan. 10 will present a unique doubleheader. "Ballers and Brawlers" offers an afternoon and evening of wrestling and basketball. Coach Jason Potter and the Saints wrestlers are in a dual with Neuqua Valley at 5 p.m. followed immediately by the basketball team hosting Elgin.
"It's kind of a way to support each other's program," said basketball coach Patrick Woods.
We've run a note on this before and may again, but on Feb. 15 Kaneland will present the "Kaneland Day and Knight of Basketball," a varsity triple-header drawing, among others, St. Charles North and Larkin.
Somehow Knights coach Brian Johnson convinced the pep band to play the whole day and Knight.
"We're just trying to get a lot of different people involved that maybe are not basketball-related, and making it an event that the community and school is proud of," Johnson said.
Taking a cue from Jim Roberts at Batavia, Kaneland also will be honoring a local with strong community ties -- in this case a local couple. In what Johnson hopes will be an annual affair, the first honorees will be Bob and Donna Harner.
"Just great people," Johnson said.
The big check
Just a reminder that Dec. 7 is the date of the announcement of proceeds from community collection efforts around the 20th annual Kick-A-Thon, held Sept. 13. at St. Charles East.
At the boys varsity basketball game at St. Charles North, the drill teams from St. Charles North and East will flip over the digits indicating the final take from this year's fundraiser. Last year's haul was more than $80,000 and the organizers naturally hope to top that. Proceeds are split between the Fox Valley Chapter of the American Cancer Society and the LivingWell Cancer Research Center in Geneva.
Listening to West Aurora boys basketball coach Gordie Kerkman never gets old.
"We're capable of being very good, but I haven't seen the elements yet that are eye-popping or even gratifying," the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer said about his club.
Standards are high. The 38-year head coach has produced variations on that theme in preseasons past. The Blackhawks have reached supersectionals the last two seasons.
His goals for this season include: "To win every game we should."
As West Aurora exits the DuPage Valley Conference for the "very comparable" Upstate Eight after this calendar year, Kerkman said he'll miss the coaches of the DuPage Valley Conference. On the other hand, he's familiar and friendly with UEC coaches.
Still, on Thursday night games in the UEC: "I'm not thrilled."
Logical, matter-of-fact delivery with a wry or ironic twist is just fun to hear.
Turning 77 this year, Kerkman said, "it's still a lot of fun and hopefully I'm enthusiastic enough to where it motivates or spreads over to the way the kids play."
Questions annually circulate about his retirement, enough that anyone would tire of it.
"People have asked me this way too many times," he said. "I'm approaching 80 -- I don't know that I'm approaching it, but I'm coming pretty close. I don't know if I should be coaching basketball when I'm 80 years old. I don't know what else I'd do. Get lazy -- or lazier."
Here's to Coach.
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1