Even though he’s only seven years removed from his high school playing days, Griffin McNeal already has a year’s experience as a high school varsity head basketball coach.
McNeal was named the head coach of the Genoa-Kingston program at the start of June, the same program he graduated from in 2015. Back in the shortened season in the winter 2021, he was head coach of the Hiawatha boys team, and that taught him a lot about being a head coach.
“You get the experience of coaching the games, but more than that you learn about all the extra stuff that goes into it,” McNeal said. “Bringing bus rosters, fundraising, all the behind-the-scenes stuff you don’t really see when you’re an assistant coach or when you’re a player.”
The Cogs have been running practices and competing in summer leagues for a few weeks under McNeal, who took over when Ethan Franklin took the head coaching job at Sycamore.
The Cogs went 22-10 last season on a team loaded with seniors. Nolan Perry was one of the few juniors who saw regular minutes for the team.
“We did lose a lot of talent and a lot of good leadership,” McNeal said. “The incoming senior class, there’s numbers. There’s quite a few of them. And a lot of those guys did play JV last year, just backlogged from having six seniors on a roster. Some of them got varsity minutes, but some of them had a whole year of JV to develop their game a little bit.”
Junior guard Nolan Perry said the summer has been going well considering the low number of returning players and learning a new system
“Obviously, it’s been a little tough with the new coach and basically a new team – last year there were mainly seniors, only three juniors got serious playing time,” Perry said. “The summer went pretty well, I’d say.”
McNeal said the summer has gone well so far, and a big part of that is his relationship with the team. In addition to coaching them before in football – he was an assistant football coach for the Cogs last season but didn’t coach basketball – he remembers their youth days when he was in high school.
“Obviously, as a G-K alum, it’s a dream to come back,” McNeal said. “I love Genoa, I want to give back to it as much as I can. I was sad to see Ethan go because Ethan is a great guy, great coach, great teacher, he is missed, but excited selfishly because it’s something I always wanted.”
Franklin ran an up-tempo offense, and while McNeal said he wants to keep that, he’s looking to slow things down on the defensive end.
“I’m really trying to harp getting back on defense and working down in the half-court so we can creat those opportunities going the other way instead of gambling,” McNeal said. “I think we’re a solid defensive team, and I hate giving up easy baskets.”
He said slowing down the half-court game will open up the athletic ability of the Cogs on offense.
“At the varsity level we have a lot of good athletes, so we’re going to want to get out and run as much as possible,” McNeal said. “It starts with the defense, and it’s a work in progress. Things are different, me and Ethan do things a little differently, so we’re trying to get that figured out. But tempo has been the main focus point of the summer offensively as we’ve got to look to move the ball.”
Perry said things are different, but the intensity of the team and the schemes haven’t changed.
“It’s a different style, but when it comes down to it, it’s basketball,” Perry said. “That’s what summer league games are for, to go out there and to learn and have fun. He’s been working with us to make us the best we can be. We can’t really ask for anything better than that.”