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New Ulm basketball needs new approach to find success

A column by Jim Bastian

November 29, 2012
Jim Bastian - Journal Sports Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - In the past five seasons, the New Ulm Eagles boys' basketball team has posted a 27-100 record.

The team's last winning season came in the 2006-07 season, when it finished 13-12.

Since the 2006 season when Pat Burmeister left after a 10-year stint as head coach (63-191), the Eagles have seen three coaches - John Wellner (2007, 13-12 record), Lyle Erickson (two seasons, 9-41) and Shane Heiderscheidt (three years, 18-59 mark) - take over the helm of the program.

New head coach Steve Foley knows it will not take anything fancy to try and make a 180 degree turn for the program.

"We need to work on the fundamentals and play basketball," Foley said. "In the summer we need to be playing basketball more. That is the bottom line."

Foley's statement is not new - it was said by his predecessors when asked what needs to be done to spin the program in the right direction.

Another aspect to any success in any program is the youth organization. If it is solid at the lower levels, the higher levels will reap the eventual benefits.

Foley, who along with Eagles girls' basketball coach Matthew Dick both sit on the board of the New Ulm Youth Basketball Association (NUYBA), said that like any other youth organization, "You are working with volunteers. You are kind of limited to your resources. Who wants to help basically does help."

Foley said that as head coach, he puts on a youth clinic to explain to the volunteer coaches what he wants to see done at the youth level.

"Myself and Matt (Dick) give our advice, but we cannot be at every practice," Foley said. "It is hard to control that. We try and give our influence, but sometimes that is kind of limited as well."

If you look at the overall success of NUYBA teams, they have been doing well. However, from the time that players leave NUYBA for the seventh and eighth grade programs, that success seems to drop off.

Foley relates that to an experience this summer at a team basketball camp in St. Cloud.

"We played Sauk Centre, we played Virginia, we played Cambridge-Isanti. We played some bigger and some smaller schools," Foley said. "But every team that we played, they said that they play five or six team camps every summer, which is 25-30 more games. When our kids hit that ninth or tenth grade level, we have a tendency to just play school basketball. So with other schools our size playing 25 games in the school season and 25 games in the summer, they are already half a season ahead of us. So these other teams are playing 50 games a year."

Foley said that this past year, St. Peter went to team camps and played in a fall team camp in the Twin Cities area.

"It is tough to catch up to that when you are already half a season behind when the first of December rolls around," Foley said. "We need to make up for that to compete."

While Foley is not dictating that all of his players must do the same, he feels that it would help immensely for players to commit to "a couple of games of pick-up ball on a Sunday night or getting in the gym and shooting. We have suffered with that lack of time in the gym."

Another important issue for Eagles boys' basketball is the high rate of coaching turnover and instability at the position for the program.

"I think that coaching stability is a big issue," Foley said. "It is important to have a consistent program and direction. I have talked to my kids and we are not just a varsity program. I want this to be a 'team' from grades 7-12. I want us to be supporters and fans of each other, to go to each other's games. I want all of us to be headed in the same direction instead of each grade doing something different. When you have different philosophies, kids are not sure. My philosophies are different than last year."

Foley said that he feels that the program has had good head coaches in the past.

"I have worked under all of them from Lyle Erickson to Shane Heiderscheidt to Pat Burmeister to John Wellner," Foley said. "They all did a great job, and it is tough on the kids that they do not have that consistent coaching philosophy for more than a couple of years."

"You need that long-term commitment to get kids to buy into what you are doing and get it headed in the right direction," added Foley, who feels that New Ulm High School can have a solid basketball program. "Fairmont is able to compete in baseball, football and basketball. I do not know why we cannot do that. We have plenty of athletes and all of the head coaches here do a good job of working together. I feel that all of our programs are headed in the right direction."



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