Long after the final buzzer, the trophy presentation, the congratulatory high-fives, handshakes and cutting of the nets, New Albany coach Jim Shannon took it all in.
The Bulldogs had just won their second Hall of Fame Classic title, and after deflecting the credit onto his players in post-game chats with media, he took a moment to watch them celebrate.
“I’m just blessed to have talent,” Shannon said following the Bulldogs’ 58-33 rout of previously undefeated and third-ranked Logansport on Saturday at New Castle Fieldhouse. “ … There’s a lot of guys in this state that can coach but don’t have the talent that I do. I understand that. I think I’m just very blessed.”
Whether it be New Albany’s first-place finish in the prestigious holiday tournament, a regular-season win or the program’s first state championship since 1973, Shannon remains selfless in the spotlight. The school-first, ego-second mentality developed for Shannon when he was an assistant at Anderson High School, his alma mater, under fellow assistant Jerome Foley and his former mentor, hall of famer Norm Held. Foley had a hand in convincing Shannon to begin coaching in 1981, and the rest is written in the record books.
The Bulldogs’ head man owns a .773 win percentage during his time at New Albany and just became the state’s 12th active coach and 32nd all-time to reach 500 wins.
“We are just 100 percent locked in – both feet in,” Shannon said. “I bleed red and black. Anything that has to do with this school concerns me. Not just the basketball team. I have a lot of weaknesses, but one of them is not loyalty. I’m a very loyal person, so everything about this place, I love. … I spend a lot more time here than I do virtually anywhere, so this gymnasium is like my life. The kids probably know that I care about them. They know that I’m hard and a little bit old-school, but by the same token, I do care about them. I care about them a great deal.”
That care extends beyond the court and into the classroom and community, Shannon says. Now in his 19th year at New Albany, Shannon gets on his players for bad grades and misbehavior in the same fashion he would a missed rebound or lack of hustle. It’s not always easy under coach Shannon, says junior guards Romeo Langford and Sean East, but the intentions are always clear: Success on and off the court is expected.
“He cares about us,” Langford said. “Even though he cusses at us and gets on us sometimes, it’s only because he cares and wants to get the best out of us.”
A memorable moment for Langford thus far in his stint under Shannon is the coach’s celebratory Gatorade bath and dance-off in Bulldogs’ locker room following their Class 4A state-title win a season ago – a rare showing of exuberance from the longtime coach.
Shannon “cuts it up” with his players occasionally, he says, but it’s all business for the Bulldogs, who are looking to replicate the success they experienced a season ago.
“They want you to set the bar high,” Shannon said. “They’re looking for leadership, believe it or not. They’ll act like they’re not, but kids want somebody to lead them. Then some day, they’ll pay it forward, and they’ll be leading. They’ll be teaching a whole new generation of how to succeed in life and how to be a man. I don’t really strive to be their buddy. … For the most part, I’m a mentor. I’m somebody they can look to for advice. I’m somebody that’s going to hold them accountable, and I’m going to try to teach them enough about basketball as I possibly can.”
The road to back-to-back state titles continues for Shannon and Co. at rival Jeffersonville at 7:30 p.m. Friday. After enduring a tough early-season slate, featuring seven ranked teams and an increase in travel, Shannon said a road game nearby is refreshing for the Bulldogs, albeit against their archrival.
The all-time series record, although debated, is widely considered 81-76 in favor of New Albany. The Bulldogs (7-2, 1-0 Hoosier Hills) have won the past four meetings by an average of 24.8 points and are 13-4 against the Red Devils (7-3, 2-0 HHC) dating back to 2007. Friday’s game marks the 158th meeting.
A win would improve Shannon’s record against the Red Devils to 19-11 after an 0-4 start, but statistics aren’t important to him. He just wants to take it all in.
“It’s not an ego thing with me,” Shannon said, “it’s really not. I think I’ve been really fortunate, really blessed with some great kids, a great school, great administrators. I’ve been really lucky.”