2024 News-Gazette All-Area girls' basketball Coach of the Year: Tuscola's Tim Kohlbecker

Apr. 13—2024 News-Gazette All-Area girls' basketball Coach of the Year: Tuscola's Tim Kohlbecker:

Why He's the Coach of the Year

Kohlbecker's last season at Tuscola went much like the Warriors' previous two campaigns. The Warriors went 28-3 and won a Class 1A plaque for the third season in a row to secure the second regional three-peat in Kohlbecker's 20 seasons at the helm of the program. They also won Monticello's Holiday Hoopla in late December, a turning point during the program's third straight mark of 24 or more wins under Kohlbecker, who announced his intentions to retire in March. Kohlbecker and family — including wife Lynette and daughter Sam Shelmadine, who assisted him on the sidelines during the 2023-24 season — shared some thoughts with News-Gazette staff writer Joey Wright.

What are your takeaways from a successful season on the court?

➜ Tim: Before the season started, people would ask how we're going to be and I really didn't have an answer. Usually I would say we can be really good or we can be average, it just depends on the chemistry, the role definitions that come out. And I think we see from the result, what happened, that it was one of the most fun teams I've ever coached. We had a blast. I think that had a lot to do with success. I had a great coaching staff and the girls bought into what we were selling. I think we also figured out what roles needed to be filled and how we were going to get them filled and convince girls to execute, like on the defensive side, ball handling and everything. And then the chemistry developed.

➜ Sam: We hit our stride at the Christmas tournament, Monticello's Holiday Hoopla, and then after that, I feel like we just took off. People found their roles.

➜ Tim: And then everyone really believed after Christmas, I think when we beat Salt Fork right before Christmas here. Then we ran into the Christmas tournament and we beat some really good teams there, and pretty easily.

➜ Lynette: We're not used to losing, either, because they only lost two games last year. They've only lost five in the last two years. So that helps the mentality, too.

To what extent do you think that helped with this year's roster?

➜ Sam: I feel like a lot of it has to do with the culture that he's established where we may not start out the best team, but we always find a way to win. We will adjust what we do according to our players' skill sets.

➜ Tim: That's a really important point. Because I know some systems where it's, 'This is what we run, you're going to do it this way.' We don't do that. We see what's coming and we adjust to what's coming while trying to increase our skills, too. But you've got to take what you have and make it work. That's a really good point and I think that's what we do. That starts in the summer. I know teams that play 30-40 games in the summer, but we barely played eight.

Lynette: They do a lot of bonding, too. Every Saturday, they have a meal together that the parents do. Plus, we adopt a couple kids from the community that need clothes or stuff like that and at Christmas, they all contribute and they go shopping and I think that when you remember you're a team, it's not just about the game, you have to represent a good value system and ethics. He has a question of the day for them where it's not about basketball, like what's your best experience? Or who's your role model?

How do you go about building that culture? Because you can coach a 2-3 zone, but you can't necessarily make 15 people like each other.

➜ Tim: We were open and direct and we talked about things. I don't know if it was this year or earlier, I said, you may not love each other, but you have to kind of like each other. You're not going to like everybody on your team sometimes. But this team did. We tried to build that culture of if you've got a problem, deal with it.

➜ Lynette: He's raised three daughters. So he's like, get over it, move on. He's not really very empathetic, which is probably kind of good, because they know they can't come and say, coach, 'that person,' you know, so on and so forth.

What drew you to basketball?

➜ Tim: For me as a young kid, young adolescent, it was kind of an escape. There were times when I'd be at our school yard and there wouldn't be anyone else there. I'd be in our backyard, nobody else there. It was just something to do, somewhere to go. But anyway, I wasn't a great high school player. I had a nice view from the bench at (Griffin High School in Springfield, now Sacred Heart-Griffin) and then went off to college. They should have redshirted me a year in high school or something. I started figuring out what basketball is about. It still became a nice away from life moment. ... I played a lot of pickup ball over the years, and I really just enjoyed it. Then I started to figure out how you can get good at it, tricks to the trade. Because when you're not blessed with great physical ability, you learn other ways to do it.

How did coaching come about?

➜ Tim: (Stan) Wienke needed an assistant coach and still just a pickup player, YMCA, rec league kind of thing. And he needed somebody to help him and (our daughter Aja) was on the team. So he was kind enough to let me do it. Then he left and then another one of his assistants took over for a year. And then Stan came back and then he left again. At that point, I thought I might know something. ... It took off from there. And there were times that it was overwhelming, but you just feel like you can't let these kids down.

What was your full-time job?

➜ Tim: I ran the post-traumatic stress disorder clinic at the VA Hospital in Danville. It didn't matter what kind of day I had. Once I got in the gym with the kids, the day was good. They just change everything, even if we had a loss.

How did you manage coaching and managing work and your family?

➜ Tim: I didn't always manage it as well as I could have all the time, but I think what it boiled down to is lack of sleep. Something's got to go if you want to do it right. Aja was playing Division I volleyball, at one point, for four years. And if I could do it over, I would probably make more of those. We got to a lot of them, but there was some overlap. I had a wife who supported me doing it.

➜ Lynette: I was teaching full time, going to grad school and coaching scholastic bowl.

➜ Tim: If she hadn't been OK with it, there's no way I could have done it. Because she's handling everything at home. These guys made it easy, and I have an older son and another older daughter, they're out of town, but these were the ones that were here and their love of sports and what it can bring to somebody. We would talk about it and it just made it so much easier.

What are you going to miss the most about coaching?

➜ Tim: I won't miss the craziness of summers for the kids. At a small school, they've got to play multiple sports. We need them to play multiple sports. In the summer, some are travel, some are school-related. I don't know if you heard (new Tuscola girls' basketball coach) Mike Rosenbaum say they just worked out their summer schedules, all the coaches did.

But then the kids have to serve three or four different coaches. So I won't miss them feeling like they're so tied up that they don't have a summer. Consequently, we had one of our best years this year with minimal summer activities. One of the things I'll really miss, now that I think about it, is I was at an airport in Tampa a couple weeks ago. I hear somebody going 'Hey, coach,' a referee. And there was a trainer that was there. I got off the plane and ran into two parents that knew me from coaching.

We went to Buffalo Wild Wings, because there was a game coming on that we had to go see before we came home. This was in Springfield, over by the airport. This guy comes up to me and it turns out I coached against his daughter at Maroa-Forsyth 15-18 years ago. I told my wife. I said being the person I am, without basketball, I don't know if I'd have any friends. I'd have relationships, but not like this. It is really a blessing.