URBANA – Urbana High School is turning to a familiar face in hopes of reviving its struggling boys' basketball program.
Vashoune Russell, a member of the school's Athletic Hall of Fame and a Tigers coach in two sports for the past five years, has been selected as varsity head coach. Russell succeeds Terrence Gray, who was not retained after compiling a 19-57 record in three seasons.
Russell's appointment still must be approved by the Urbana school board, which is next scheduled to meet Tuesday.
"He's someone who really has his heart and soul with the program," Urbana athletic director Greg Hall said Wednesday. "He's truly dedicated to being at Urbana and building up the program. Plus, he knows his stuff. He has a passion for the game. He studies the game. He's grown and developed as a coach."
Russell, 36, is a 1991 graduate of Urbana who during his prep career excelled in football (two-time team MVP) and basketball (team MVP as a senior). He played on the last Urbana boys' basketball team to win an IHSA regional title, in 1989, and was inducted into the school's hall of fame in 2008.
Russell takes over a program that has had one winning record in the last nine seasons and has seen home attendance dwindle. He is eager to reverse both of those trends at his alma mater.
"I've got a lot of pride in Urbana," Russell said. "My biggest thing is I hope I can get the community behind the team and just get everybody excited about Urbana basketball. Just showing up in their orange and black (school colors) and giving us that home court advantage."
Since fall 2004, Russell has served in several Urbana coaching capacities in football and boys' basketball.
He directed the freshman basketball team for three seasons before taking the helm of the junior varsity two years ago. Russell also is in his sixth season on the football coaching staff, currently as a varsity assistant.
This summer, in the absence of a varsity basketball head coach, Russell continued to work with all levels of players in the program.
"Just making sure the kids still did something," he said.
One of Russell's priorities is to increase the players' physical strength. He conducted four weight-training sessions per week, which he said drew an average of between 20 and 25 players per session.
"The biggest challenge is just to get the kids in the weight room and believe in weight training," Russell said. "The attendance was awesome. The kids bought into it pretty early."
Russell has previously coached all of the current seniors on the team and is familiar with the other current candidates for the varsity. Urbana's top returnee is 6-foot-4 forward Kyle Clevenger, a 2009 News-Gazette All-Area special mention choice who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season.