Bob Asmussen | Former Maroons player/coach Nix enjoying Normal Community's ride

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NORMAL — For most of his 45 years, LeConte Nix has been associated with one uniform color and school, the maroon of Champaign Central.

Until this year. Now, he's got the orange and black of Normal Community in his wardrobe, too.

Nix retired from Central after last season. But the folks in Normal talked him into returning to the sidelines. Good move.

With Nix serving as one of the assistants to longtime coach Dave Witzig, the Ironmen are completing a banner season.

Normal Community (31-5) plays Palatine (28-8) at 2 p.m. Friday in a Class 4A state semifinal game at State Farm Center in Champaign.

"It's very exciting," Nix said. "It's nice to get a shot."

It is a dream come true for Nix, who was part of a third-place team at Central in 2008. But those games were in Peoria.

"It's good to come back home," Nix said. "It's amazing."

State Farm Center is the same building Nix went to as a kid to watch the state tournament before the event moved to Peoria.

"My dad made sure we went to those games," Nix said.

It won't be the first time Nix works at State Farm Center. When he was an assistant at Central, the team played there in a nonconference game against Chicago Whitney Young. That was in regular season. This is two wins from a state title, which would be the first ever for Normal Community in basketball.

"The guys were excited about Redbird Arena this week (site of the super-sectional)," Nix said. "I said, 'Wait til you step foot in the State Farm Center. It's a whole different experience.'"

The success this season is beyond what Nix expected when he agreed to join the program.

"I didn't know what was coming," Nix said.

When Normal Community beat Downers Grove North to advance to the state tournament, Nix's phone started to blow up. Calls came from his former players, coaches and teammates.

"That's been nice," he said. "Coach (John) Staab sent me a really nice message. Coach (Tim) Turner sent me a really nice message. It's been nice to hear from the Champaign people. At the end of the day, I'm a Maroon at heart."

Nix said a large contingent of family and friends will be attending the games.

He hopes they are there late Saturday night to see Normal Community in the championship game against either Homewood-Flossmoor or New Trier.

Making the move

Nix thought he was done with coaching when he stepped aside last spring after two seasons as Central's boys' basketball coach.

During his career, the Central alum helped his alma mater reach the Final Four in baseball, basketball and football. It was a good run.

The basketball team lost to Chicago Simeon in the semifinal round before beating Washington in the third-place game. That's a strong memory for Nix.

Nix's friend Anthony Clark is an assistant principal at Normal Community. He reached out to gauge interest.

"I said I'd think about it," Nix said.

It didn't take long for Nix to say "yes."

"It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," Nix said.

Witzig, who has more than 500 wins in 25 years as Normal Community's coach, was a big draw. Nix has known him for years.

"Coach Witzig is a great coach," Nix said. "I've learned a lot being over here.

"I've been great friends with Coach Witzig and (assistant) Nate Foster. We always bounced coaching ideas when we saw each other and we competed a lot."

Nix didn't see the move to Normal Community as joining the enemy.

"Centennial has always been the rival for me," Nix said. "Centennial and Urbana."

The Normal Community players have been "very receptive."

And they gave Nix a bit of grief when the team played Central this season.

"That was a hard game," Nix said. "They are really good kids."

Nix's duties with the team depend on the day. He works with the varsity only.

On the road

Nix still lives in Champaign. So he makes the daily commute to Normal. Forty-five minutes to plan for the day on the way up and unwind on the way back.

"I like the drive," he said. "The drive is good."

Besides his coaching duties, Nix took a job in the school's special education department.

Nix finds Normal to be similar to his hometown. Nice people in a community that values education. Nix hasn't planned beyond the state tournament. He will make a decision about next year later.

"Right now, I'm a Normal Ironman," he said. That's where I'm at."