Mitch McHenry and Joel Brown shook hands like old friends.
Then they walked to opposing benches for the first time. Brown, the boys basketball coach at Hillcrest, and McHenry, coach at Rogersville, share many links. They both played for Hall-of-Famer Steve Jenkins at Evangel, coached for Jenkins, and ended up at Kickapoo assisting 2016 Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year Dick Rippee.
On Tuesday night, McHenry and Brown coached against each other for the first time. Hillcrest collected a 55-36 win.
“I hate it because Mitch has been a good friend of mine for a long time, and he’s a competitor,” Brown said. “It’s surreal to have somebody that you think of more as a teammate on your side, and then you’re going against him on the other.”
Sophomore Tyem Freeman led Hillcrest (4-3) with 16 points. The Hornets took off on a 10-0 run and held Rogersville (4-5) without a basket for the first 5:08 of the second quarter to create separation.
Senior guard Shahn Clark added 12 points for Hillcrest. Andrew Scott was Rogersville’s only player in double figures with 14 points.
Brown is a graduate of Evangel University, where he played basketball. Brown also played for Kickapoo coach Dick Rippee, who was an assistant on Hall-of-Famer Steve Jenkins’ staff from 2002 to 2009. Like McHenry, Brown went on to serve as a graduate assistant for the Crusaders.
Springfield Public Schools lured Brown to Kickapoo and onto Rippee’s basketball coaching staff in 2010. The Chiefs went 111-30 in Brown’s five seasons on the staff. Brown’s coaching is heavily influenced by Jenkins, Rippee, and one more coach. Brown’s high school coach was his father.
“I take pieces of all three of them that I think are their strongest attributes, and I try to implement them,” Brown said. “Those are the guys I learned from. They’re the ones who taught me how to be a coach.”
When Tomas Brock left Hillcrest to become an assistant coach at Columbia College, it opened the door for Brown to take his first head coaching job.
Last year at the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament, he stood opposite Rippee and Kickapoo on the benches. It’s McHenry’s first season at Rogersville, so this marked Brown’s first pregame handshake and exchange of words with McHenry.
“You don’t see them as much during the season, so you just find out how they’re doing in life, how things are going,” Brown said.
McHenry played four years of college basketball at Evangel from 2008 to 2012 under Jenkins, whose assistant at the time was none other than Rippee. McHenry went on to spend his first two postgraduate years on Jenkins’ staff, where he also struck up a friendship with Brown.
“It’s not really fun because you don’t like competing against your friends and a close friend’s team, because you want nothing but success for them,” McHenry said. “Both of us are going to be around for a long time, so we’re going to get used to it and we’re going to have a lot of fun battles.”
McHenry plans to use knowledge gained from Rippee and Jenkins to make the Wildcats better. Rippee has been at Kickapoo for eight years, and McHenry is his fourth assistant to move on to become a head coach.
“It’s awesome seeing their coaching tree and seeing how it’s branching out, and it continues to develop each year,” McHenry said.
Rippee didn’t get to see the fruits of his coaching tree on display Tuesday night in Rogersville. Kickapoo had a game at Central, but Rippee said Monday that he wished he could have been there.
“It’s a thrill for me and I’m proud of both of them,” Rippee said.
Rippee took a lesson from Jenkins in mentoring Brown and McHenry.
“Like Coach Jenkins did for me when I was his assistant, he let me coach a lot. I learned that from him and I let my assistants coach a lot,” Rippee said. “The best way for them to learn on the job, so to speak, is to let them coach.”
Rogersville is scheduled to take on Stockton Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. in the first round of the Greenwood Blue and Gold Tournament. Hillcrest heads south for a tournament in Harrison, Arkansas which begins on Dec. 28.
Hillcrest 55, Rogersville 36
At Logan-Rogersville High School
Hillcrest—Tyem Freeman 16, Shahn Clark 12, Cole Pryor 9, Hezekiah Duke 9, Tim Washington 6, Malik Starks 3
Rogersville—Andrew Scott 14, Jarrett Styles 7, Luke Vandersnick 7, Matt McHenry 6, Drew Ritter 2.