BThe oulder Creek men’s basketball team saw its Cinderella story come to an end earlier this year with a 23-9 final record.
This is just the beginning of what awaits them under the culture established by head coach Justin Collard.
When the overtime bell rang on Feb. 25, the team walked off the field feeling a range of emotions after their historic season was cut short in the 6A State Semifinals at Hamilton High School.
Just two nights before, the No. 12-seeded Jaguars came off the field in celebration after picking up a huge road win over No. 4 Mountain Pointe, their second straight playoff victory.
Before this season, the Jaguars hadn’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs in this conference, which contains the high schools with the most enrollment in the state, after joining it in the 2011-12 season. .
Four years ago, Collard and his wife made the “impromptu” decision to move to the Valley after his wife’s grandmother was suddenly diagnosed with cancer.
He had to leave his job as a college basketball coach at Cooper High School, a small school near his hometown of Paris, Texas, where he “had built a program and won games along the way and he looked like it was going to start to turn the corner.” However, he said that when they heard the news, “we literally started packing our bags that day.”
“She was very special and unique, and she had a weird way of making your day better,” Collard said of his wife’s now-deceased grandmother.
“No matter how bad your day went, everything would be fine. By the way, her name was Lorraine. So she was impactful, very impactful. So, it was like we were moving there to spend time with her, for her. But we were lucky to be able to spend time with her, that’s how it ended up working. Life is weird. He’s a mysterious jerk.
Shortly after making the decision to move to Phoenix, Collard applied to be the freshman basketball coach at Boulder Creek after hearing good things about the Deer Valley Unified School District from the his wife’s family.
He had only spent a year as a freshman coach when the varsity coaching position opened up.
“I learned so much coaching these guys because you have to work on the fundamentals and you have to teach a lot more,” he said.
“Because they’re freshmen, they don’t know as much, so the things you might think to skip, you have to reinforce that it’s very important to spend time doing all the little things. I was lucky to be able to do that. It wasn’t like a problem, I enjoyed it.
Guard Espn Polanski said he looked up to Collard because he didn’t know anyone when he came to Anthem.
“And, he always had a positive attitude and just wanted to coach and always found a way to coach and find people he likes and everything,” Polanski said.
“So I think it’s crazy how he always kept a positive attitude, even when he didn’t know anyone and had no path in life, and he was always positive and found a way out of it. go out.”
Coaching was Collard’s goal because “very good mentors and very good coaches”. He graduated from North Lamar High School in Paris in 2008. There he played basketball and in his senior year he averaged 15.4 points per game, 5.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 interceptions.
It was good enough to land him a basketball scholarship to MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. There he was coached by Rocky Lamar and his team.
Lamar has coached at MidAmerica Nazarene since 1986 and is the all-time winning leader in NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) history. He was elected to the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2014. During Collard’s years there, Lamar had two assistant coaches who became head coaches.
“It was the best all-round staff,” Collard said.
“But Rocky, just the way he spoke to the kids, the way he communicated and his vision for the game, the way he sees the game, the way he thinks the person is more important than the player.
“And how you can always go talk to him. And even though he pushes very hard, I would say that Rocky Lamar is a legend. His assistants were really good. At one point I had three phenomenal coaches. I learned a lot.”
Collard earned an undergraduate degree in kinesiology and returned to Texas to teach and coach college basketball at Cooper High School at age 23.
While coaching, he earned his masters in biology and education. Currently, he is also a biology professor at Boulder Creek.
“To be a good teacher, you have to do a lot of planning and preparation and try to stick with all the other teachers you work with and work together,” he said. “And then to be a good coach, you have to do the same thing. So it just goes hand in hand. They work very well together. »
When it comes to training, Collard has his own strategy.
“I was trained by a lot of much smarter and more experienced coaches,” he said. “I’m a pretty good listener.
“I don’t act like I have all the solutions, but I’m interested. And there are lots of different ways to do it. I learned that there is no right way. We do it in the best way that suits our children.
“In my opinion, this is my path. There are people who have been running programs and have been earning for years, doing it a certain way. So that’s just my way.
Brayden Newton has been training with the team since last offseason and says Collard made a good impression on him.
“He’s a great coach,” Newton said. “He really pushes us a lot, which is a good thing. He pushed us to our ceiling. So, I mean, it’s crazy how much he wants us to improve and how much he wants us to improve. we’re working.
The Jaguars finished the 2020-21 season at 4-11 in a year shortened by COVID-19, but Collard motivated them to a quick turnaround.
Polanski said, “We played our last game on a Friday and we didn’t make the playoffs. And then on Saturday we had workouts and weights right off the bat.
“And the day we walked in there he said, ‘You can do it, you can go all the way. You can go as far as you can. So from that point on he already had faith in us that we could go all the way and then one time we started up the seeds and had a really good season. He saw the confrontations we had. And then also, he said to us: ‘We could do it. We can go all the way,” so he always had faith in us no matter what.
At MidAmerica Nazarene, Collard met his wife, who attended Paradise Valley High School and was on the MidAmerica football team.
Collard said that “as soon as I met her, I knew it was her instantly”. This summer, Collard and his wife will have their first child, a girl, and her middle name will be her great-grandmother’s name.
“Family is always the most important,” Collard said, “even right now (before her daughter was here), so that never changes.”
As a high school coach, Collard knows that through his experience teaching his team the game of life is crucial. “We live by the Core Values every day. We have core values for every day of the week,” he said. “It’s very important. Family is important. We talk about it – basketball will end for everyone; the ball will stop bouncing. But, building those relationships and having memories and teaching what’s to come. It’s actually my job. If we win basketball games, that’s great. But, you will win if you have talent.
At this point, Polanski said Collard reminded them that “basketball is only temporary, but being a great father and person is forever.”
Reflecting on the last season, which he called a “good base and a great experience,” Collard said, “I wanted to win two more than us. But yes, we can build on that and we will. It was a great ride. Some of these kids, I started coaching them in first grade and now they’re graduating. And it’s hard for me because you hang out with people every day. And then, you don’t see them anymore and it’s hard. But yes, they were very important. The legacy they left is very important.
Collard has no specific goals for himself and the team.
“Goals and everything, I realized that’s not how it works,” he said. “We have to win today. If we are going to do well today, and set up to win again tomorrow, it will all add up. The big goal is for them to be as good as possible. That’s my goal. If they do as well as they can and they lose every game, then that’s our cap. I don’t think that’s our cap. I think we can win a few.