Colin Likas caught up with third-year Oakwood boys’ basketball coach Jeff Mandrell, whose team won the Vermilion Valley Conference regular-season title on Monday and helped Mandrell to his 500th career coaching win in the process:
With the league championship already on the table leading into Monday’s game at Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin, gunning for your 500th win must have been a cherry on top.
“I’ve been at it a while. I guess if you can survive long enough, you can do that. Every year the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association updates (its coaching wins list), so I knew I was in there. I didn’t say anything to our administration, but they knew so that kind of surprised me. It’s a nice milestone, and I credit the players. I’ve been fortunate to have some good players through the years and good assistant coaches and administrative support. A lot goes into it.”
What did it mean to the team to win the Vermilion Valley Conference title with that 58-50 victory over the Blue Devils?
“It’s a strange season, and we’re grateful to have what we had. It’s not often you end the season on a win. Usually you’re disappointed, and you play well but you lose somewhere along the way. To end that positively is good.”
Entering the season, did you believe your guys had a conference-championship run in them?
“I thought we had a chance. I thought we’d be solid. There were a few games that could’ve gone either way. We were probably lucky (during) our first conference game at Schlarman. We won that in overtime. Then there’s some other good teams. But I knew we had an experienced group and some good leadership, so I thought we could be good.”
At what point did you really start talking up the possibility of winning that league crown?
“It took a few games. We went up and won at Milford just in the last week or so. We were kind of mentioning that (the conference title) is out there and that Bismarck had lost a conference game. Before the (BHRA) game I told them, ‘Win that and we’re outright conference champions.’ They were ready to go.”
The quartet of Josh Young, Brevin Wells, Isaiah Ruch and Dalton Hobick provided offensive balance throughout the season. Did you expect that?
“No, I really didn’t. I’ve been pleased with the production we’ve gotten. We’ve gotten scoring from four guys pretty consistently. ... A couple of kids came off the bench and helped us. We weren’t that deep — we would go about seven deep — but I was really pleased how we never had one person the (opposing) defense could focus on.”
What do you hope this shortened season does for future teams?
“I think it gives the kids confidence. They know they can compete with whoever we play against, and hopefully we can ... have some open gyms and try to improve (in the offseason).”