South Kitsap Coach of the Year

It’s easy to forget just who was behind the spectacular run the South Kitsap boys basketball team made this past season.

After all, with poster boys Derrick Webb and Jamil Moore combining with veteran Conner Gehring, newbie Josh Monagle and the scrappy Tippy Burk, and a bench that held waiting superstars like Ryan Sweet and L.P. Neloms, a fifth-straight state tournament appearance, a No. 1 state ranking and an undefeated regular season now all seemed so likely.

But the man that not only put but kept the right combinations together, the guy who found a way to replace two of the best players in the school’s history is the guy that sometimes gets overlooked. Until now.

After taking his team to a second-place finish at the 2004 Class 4A state tournament with the likes of Jake Beitinger and Adam Bennett, all John Callaghan did for an encore was mesh a group of decidingly different personalities and playing styles into a team that made a wonderful run back to the state tourney and earned the seventh-year coach the South Kitsap Coach of the Year award from the Port Orchard Independent.

Callaghan topped a list of coaches who had very successful years in their own right, including: Pat Olsen and Freda Evans, who led the school’s athletic medicine program to its seventh-straight state title in April; Chad Nass and Dave Dyess, who coached the boys wrestling team to sixth place in the state; Eric Bergeson, who once again took both the boys and girls soccer teams to the state tournament; and, Kathy Ballew, who guided the girls fastpitch team to an undefeated regular season and national ranking.

But it was Callaghan, who got the team off to a 24-0 start before ending with a 26-3 mark and a sixth-place trophy, who emerged from the crowd.

“I don’t think I did anything different or worked any harder than I ever do,” Callaghan said. “But it was nice that things worked out and they played together and I think we really played well as a team. By the end of the year, we were tough to beat.”

With the graduation of both his 2004 post players, Callaghan took a group of athletic kids and got them to play a different style than the Wolves had used in the last four years.

And the up-tempo, aggressive defense led to 24 straight wins and a fifth straight trip to the tournament.

“You try to go to your strengths,” Callaghan said. “Personally, I prefer an up-tempo, trapping, full-court style of play. But it’s also nice to have a big Jake or a big Adam to dump the ball into in the half court. But I prefer an up-tempo for sure, and I think the kids do, too.”

Last year’s group seemed to thrive on the faster, more physical play. But when Webb and Moore stepped up and established themselves as senior leaders, and with the emergence of Burk at point guard and Monagle at center, things really got going.

“The kids, they came together,” Callaghan said. “The seniors did a great job of leadership.

“We kind of focused on certain things a little more,” Callaghan said. “We tried to play a little more up-tempo and press a little bit more. I think we maybe shifted our focus to a different aspect of the game.”

But the mainstay was the diamond-and-one defensive scheme that Callaghan, who is 123-40 over his six years at South, has so adeptly used to shut down opposing teams.

And it remains a mystery to those that must deal with it.

“Defensively, you want to change it up a little bit,” Callaghan said. “It’s good if you can keep the other team off-balance a little bit. And you have to have … the kids have to buy into what you’re teaching. And our guys, I think they’ve done a great job of that.”

“Our guys believe in what we’re doing,” Callaghan said. “The main thing is the kids believe in what we teach them, and that makes it work.”

And last year’s group believed it all the way to the end, which is why the success has come in buckets.

“Most of it, if not all, is the kids,” Callaghan said. “They have to go out and perform. We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had some talented kids come through our program. And we still do. There’s kids coming up that are really exciting for the future. But it’s the kids. You can be the greatest coach in the world but they have to perform.”

The big question now is can Callaghan and the Wolves top what they did this year?

“Oh definitely,” Callaghan said. “I least I hope so. I hope every year I get better (as a coach). Hopefully, next year, I’m (a better coach) than I was this year.”

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