Fred Kroner: McCoy, parents adjust to spotlight
CHAMPAIGN — Tim and Kim McCoy are like all parents. They want what’s best for their children.
They are also unlike most parents. Few couples have a child who’s regarded as one of the nation’s top two basketball players in her grade level.
As Tori McCoy is educated at St. Thomas More — in the classroom and on the court — Mom and Dad are going through a learning process as well.
For Tim McCoy, there’s more to comprehend than in the classes he’s taking at Eastern Illinois University.
When Tori McCoy enrolled at STM in August 2012, her dad couldn’t have imagined what the following 18 months would entail.
“I had no idea whatsoever,” he said, “but it’s not like I gave it any thought.”
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There are some decisions the McCoys make as a family. Others are choices for the children to determine.
Where Tori would attend high school was not a subject open to discussion.
“As we selected a school, academics were No. 1, secondly was the social aspect, and third, we looked at the athletic program,” said Tim, a former athlete at Champaign Central. “Tori was reluctant to go to St. Thomas More. She fought it the first semester. We had multiple battles in our house.”
Though Tim said, “There were times I started to question my own judgment,” the final decision was made.
“Some teachers had the attitude that Tori came over just for basketball,” he said. “Once they realized we were serious about our daughter’s academics, it got smoother and smoother. St. Thomas More did a great job getting her to understand, ‘You can do this.’ ”
Kim was equally firm.
“We said, ‘We won’t give up and say you win,’ ” Kim said. “ ‘We made this decision for your future.’ A lot of parents give their kids choices. Not in our house. Not for high school.”
When November 2012 arrived, and basketball practice started, Tori was surrounded by a newfound support group. Her varsity teammates were there for her.
“This school year,” Kim said, “she wanted to go back.”
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Parental involvement can, at times, lead to parental interference for coaches. Sabers coach Chris Mennig was
upfront about issues the first time he met the McCoy family on the STM campus.
“My first line was, ‘We’ll win 20 games whether Tori shows up. We won’t become the Tori McCoy Show,’ ” Mennig said. “Our style and our system will prepare her. I can teach her things she needs to go beyond (high school).”
The transition has gone well and, Mennig said, it’s largely due to the attitude of Tim and Kim.
“The great part is they are a solid basketball-IQ family,” he said. “They understand the game. I was fortunate, too, that early college coaches shared with them one of the best things you can do is trust Chris. To get that really helped in their belief and reminded them that this is a process.”
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On Thursday, Tori was chosen to the five-player Associated Press all-state first team. The other four selections were seniors.
It’s a continuation of recognition for the 6-foot-4 athlete who can play guard or forward. She had a scholarship offer (from the University of Illinois) before she’d ever played in a high school game. College coaches not only show up at her games but also make appearances at practices and open gyms.
“It was overwhelming for her,” Kim said. “She wasn’t ready for that.”
In September, coaches can contact Tori directly. Until then, they can watch practice, visit with her if the family is on campus or talk by phone if the family makes the call.
“The first time we sat down, we called 50 coaches and talked to 35 or 36 of them,” Tim said. “Some were kind enough to offer (scholarships) over the phone. That’s a bit overwhelming. All you can do is say, ‘Thank you.’
“That’s when it became real. It’s nice to know you’re a person of interest where coaches want to talk to you.”
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The McCoy family and Mennig have tried to alleviate some pressure and distractions on the player who is ranked second nationally in the Class of 2016 by Blue-Star and 10th by ESPNw. She hasn’t been made available for interviews this season.
“You have to protect your child,” Tim said. “She gets approached from people, (and) we have no idea who they are. We’ve done a good job of keeping her grounded.
“She doesn’t walk around with her head in the clouds. She wants to continue to be better.”
Kim — the former Kim Butts — is a Centennial graduate who played basketball at Parkland College. In Tori’s younger years, Mom would hear stories about other high-profile teenage athletes and their families.
“I wondered what it was like for them,” she said, “never imagining it would happen to us.”
As the attention intensified, so did Tori’s desire.
“She knows how big this stuff is, which has made her hungrier,” Tim said. “She has the personal drive to want to be the best. The sky is the limit. We utter those words a lot.”
Mennig said there are specific areas he’ll have Tori focus on in preparation for her junior year.
“Next year, a lot of her growth will be more in conditioning and weightlifting,” he said, “and recognizing that your body is your bread-winner. She is still a young kid with a lot of growing to do.”
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At birth, Tori was 22 inches long. By sixth grade, she stood 5-8. At the end of her eighth-grade year, she was 6-3.
With a dad that’s 6-2 and a mom who’s 5-11, it’s not surprising Tori shot up.
Tim was one of her early coaches in a Champaign church league when she was 6 years old. Plenty of others have worked with her a year or more, including Deanna Maxwell, Greg Maxwell, Shawn Wax and Barry Wolfe.
Remembering Tori’s competitive introduction to the sport, Tim said, “She was one of the better players, but it’s not like she was outstanding.”
As she grew physically, she also grew as a player. Occasionally, Tim said, he couldn’t let her play.
“She dominated on the court,” he said. “There were times I’d sit her down. I couldn’t let her dominate them. I told her, ‘You can’t crush these kids’ dreams like that.’ From that moment on, it became a challenge for me to find someone to be a challenge for her.”
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Tori is trying to improve her state finish for the third year in a row. As an eighth-grader, she was on the 27-1 Jefferson Middle School team that placed third in the IESA Class 4A state tournament. Last year, 32-3 St. Thomas More finished second in Class 2A.
This season, the 31-2 Sabers are the top-ranked 2A team entering Friday night’s 6:30 contest against Teutopolis at Illinois State University.
There will be no shortage of options when Tori starts thinking about her collegiate future. UConn’s Geno Auriemma was at an open gym in Champaign. In recent games, Illinois, Louisiana State, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin have been represented at STM games or practices.
By fall, the long list will become a shorter one.
“We’d like to work the list down to 25 and deal with those 25,” Tim said. “I don’t want her to get overwhelmed.”
Unlike the choice of high schools, Tim said, “The ultimate decision is going to be Tori’s. We want to make sure as parents we give her the pros and cons.”
They also will express their feelings.
“As a mom, I want her close, but at the end of the day, it’s Tori’s decision,” Kim said. “She’s the one that has to deal with the coaches for four or five years.
“If we’re not there, we want someone who has the exact same standards.”
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Tim, who has a deaf brother, Wilson, originally studied special education at EIU. He switched his major to communications and, he said, is “a lot happier.”
He has three semesters remaining to earn his degree. He’s learning about radio and television, though he said, “I’m not sure what direction I’ll take.”
The fact that he is continuing his education is making an impact on the family, which includes Sidney Butts, a senior at Centennial, and Madison McCoy, a freshman at St. Thomas More.
“It has motivated them,” he said. “To see me in college, they know they can do it, too.”
The games are a welcome relief from the classroom for Tim. As he and his wife sit and watch the Sabers, they’re still learning.
“There’s stuff Tori does in games, I think, ‘Where did she learn that?’ ” Kim said.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s executive sports editor. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5235, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.
McCoy, Curry highlight AP all-state selections
Six area athletes received recognition on The Associated Press’ Class 1A or 2A girls’ all-state basketball teams, voted on by media members from throughout the state and released Thursday.
Two of the five 2A first-teamers were Watseka’s Devin Curry and St. Thomas More’s Tori McCoy. STM’s Lexi Wallen was on the five-player second team. A third Sabers athlete, Randa Harshbarger, was one of 13 honorable mention choices.
In Class 1A, sophomore Addison Stoller, from Cissna Park, was chosen for the five-member AP all-state second team. Arcola’s Taylor Edwards was among 13 girls earning honorable mention status.