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WNYAthletics Coach in the Spotlight: Kenmore West – Ryan Hogan

Q&A: Ryan Hogan

Kenmore West boys’ basketball is one of several programs that saw a new face take over as head coach. Ryan Hogan, Kenmore West J.V. boys’ basketball head coach, became the new varsity head coach after Mike Meetze decided to step down during the offseason. A week before the season got started, I got a chance to interview Hogan and delved into the challenges he has faced so far. Also, the challenges he will face once the season gets underway.

1.) First off coach, I want to say congratulations on the hiring of becoming Kenmore West boys’ varsity head coach. After spending a decade coaching the J.V. team, how does it feel being the head coach of boys’ varsity basketball? The Kenmore West boys basketball program has been an important part of my life for the last eleven years, as I have been the JV coach for the last ten years, as well as a voluntary assistant coach for one year with the Varsity team prior to getting the Junior Varsity coaching job. I love the game of basketball, and I am passionate about teaching the game, coaching the game, and helping to motivate students to improve on and off the court. I enjoyed coaching JV and I enjoyed working under Coach Meetze, but I have been hoping for this specific varsity coaching opportunity, as it really is a dream job for me, and a goal I have had in mind since I started as an assistant in 2009. The Kenmore West basketball programs have had excellent leaders in the past in Mike Meetze, Jim Badgely and Dick Harvey with the boy’s program and Jeff Martin and Mike Licata with the girls program. If the Kenmore West program has success and I have success in the future, it is because I’m trying to emulate all the good qualities from the coaches before me. Kenmore West is a school rich in history and tradition, and I am hopeful to carry on that tradition and the legacies of those great coaches before me, while also adding my own stamp to the Kenmore West program where I see opportunities for growth and improvement. Since I was hired at Kenmore West to be a teacher in 2008, I have learned what it means to be a Blue Devil, and I have bled the blue and white and remained loyal to our basketball program and the student athletes at Kenmore West. Over the years, other coaching opportunities at other schools opened up, and some people encouraged me to apply for other opportunities to move up the coaching ladder, but I never went looking or applying for any other opportunity. I was already at an amazing school, in a tremendous one-of-a kind athletic facility, surrounded by colleagues that I have gained wonderful friendships with, supported by strong administrators, and working alongside teachers and parents who care about students. There is no place I would rather be than here at Kenmore West.

2.) This team overall had a nice season and made it to the second round of the playoffs, you lost four seniors but have a lot of players returning for this year. What expectations do you see from this team this year? It will be a difficult selection process as our varsity tryouts will bring nine senior returners from last year’s varsity team that finished 11-11 and nine juniors that were part of the JV team in addition to other students trying out who were not part of the program last year. The coaching staff (Cory Martin, Scott Grandits, Tyler Grandits, Joe Long, and Marcus Lobdell) and I have very high expectations for this year’s team. We will have size, speed, a few talented shooters, some hard workers, and some depth on the team at most positions. What we need to do as a coaching staff is get those pieces of the puzzle to fit together, get the team to develop some chemistry, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and buy into their individual roles on the team. We need to do all of that in a very short time, as we will only have seven practices before our first game. In most years, we would have about twenty-five practices and four or five scrimmages before our first game, but it is certainly a level playing field, as all teams across WNY and the entire state are working under the same time constraints. If we can get the players to buy into working together and putting team success as a priority over individual success, we will give ourselves a chance to be competitive in each game. Even with talented players, there will certainly be no easy games on our schedule this year. The Niagara Frontier League has talented players on each team this year, and each school in our league has an excellent coach. In addition, with only the top eight teams in each bracket making sectionals, each league game will be even more important than it was in the past, because a poor league record could mean no post season this year. I expect every league game to be very competitive. We will have eleven league games and taking the shortened season and extra safety precautions into consideration, we will have five non-league games, giving us 16 total games in addition to possibly playing in sectionals if we finish in the top eight in the A1 bracket. We decided to set up a more challenging non-league schedule this year, to make sure the talent we have is being put to the test every game. We were lucky enough to schedule nonleague games with Amherst, Health Sciences, Clarence, Williamsville North, and Allegany-Limestone. Each of those five schools have highly respected basketball programs and will certainly give us a challenge.

3.) What style of offense and defense do you normally like to incorporate? I am not particularly set on instituting one specific offensive or defensive model. I feel as a coach, I need to adapt what I am doing based on the strengths and weaknesses of my players, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team we are facing. With less time to get kids ready for the first game, we will be running similar offenses and defenses to what we have in the past, so there is not too much mental overload for the players as they work to get back into game shape and work on their skills as we get ready for games.

4.) Who are the key players on your team and what are their individual skill sets? Three seniors that should really help our success this year are Jamai Jackson, Matthew Gugliuzza, and Kenneth Mosely. Jackson is about 6’6, and will often play inside, but he has the skill set to put the ball on the floor as well as hit open jump shots, so there are times in the offense he might be pulled away from the basket as well. He has a soft touch to go with his size and athleticism around the basket. He continued to put countless hours of work in during the off-season getting better. Gugliuzza is an athletic guard who makes good decisions on the court, is a good shooter, and leads by example in practices and games. We are looking for him to be more of a vocal leader for our underclassmen and increase his defensive productivity. Mosely is not our most skilled player, but he is arguably our hardest worker day in and day out and will usually guard the other team’s best player when he is on the court. Seniors Rafael Smith and Jacob Alvarez bring some toughness to the team and will be relied on to help us out at the guard position. Sean Hargrave is a tall athletic junior, who has a very strong offensive skill set for a player of his size. He is a very good all-around player, and when he plays with confidence, he is a tough matchup for any team. Philemon Jones is a very talented junior point guard who sees the floor well, gets his teammates involved, and is able to create shots and score himself. He is also a good on-ball defender. Jabari Lee is a junior center who while only in his second year playing organized basketball, will make an impact anytime he is on the floor, as he stands about 6’7 and has a unique combination of strength, speed, and athleticism rarely seen in a player his size. Zak Zayatz and Mario Smith are juniors who have unique skills sets and do multiple things well on the court. Both will be looked upon heavily to contribute.

5.) What have been the challenges of keeping in contact with your players and what challenges can you see when practice gets started? It has been difficult not seeing the players in several months. Most of the players have been back in school two days a week for a couple months now, so I have seen them in the hallways at school, but that is really the only face-to-face contact. Out of an abundance of caution, as we learned more about the virus and adapted to changing policies and guidelines from NYS and the Erie County Health Department, our coaches have not had the opportunity for any off-season workouts. We did put other measures in place to communicate with players and families. We message updates to students, parents/guardians on the Remind App. We set up a Boys Basketball Google Classroom in April and posted hours of strength and conditioning workouts that could be done from home without equipment, ball handling workouts, shooting drills and form shooting routines that could be done by players even if they didn’t have a hoop. We created and posted plays for them to watch, so they could learn the plays before the season even started. We had a competition where we put our players from all levels in groups with each other for a workout challenge. Players worked out individually, but then had to communicate with each other and keep record of their group members workouts on an online tracking tool over a sixty-day period. Not only did this help motivate the kids to workout, but also gave them lessons on accountability, dependability, and integrity while increasing their communication during a time when we had no students in the buildings. When practices start, I can see many kids being rusty, and maybe not having the same level of endurance and stamina as they would usually have to start the season. We will have an increased focus this year with the kids on stretching and player safety. Our JV coach put together a dynamic stretching routine that players at each level will go through before every practice or game. Obviously, there will be an increased awareness of player safety precautions to limit the chance of virus transmission between players, coaches, and anyone else in our building. Our athletic director and his clerical staff have done an excellent job communicating all of the protocols and guidelines that we need to follow, and our coaches will be communicating those clearly to players and their families. Our athletic trainer and our school nurse and health office staff have been working harder than ever making sure we have policies and procedures, safety checks, temperature screenings, and accurate health history knowledge of players. I feel very fortunate to be in a district that has put so much time, effort, and resources into trying their best to create a safe environment for students and staff to participate in athletics.

6.) In terms of coaching, what type of transition will be from J.V. to Varsity. You have coached these players when they were on junior varsity, do you expect it to be an easy transition? I don’t expect any of the games to be easy, because the teams and coaches I’m going against are really good. Overall as far as the job goes, I feel very prepared to take on this role due to knowledge I have gained over the years in working with or playing for great coaches. The fact that I know most of the players this season and they know my expectations, as well as me being a teacher in the building, and understanding the school and community will make this season a smoother transition than it would if I were taking a coaching job at a different school. As far as being able to coach and run a varsity program over the course of possibly many seasons, I think I am ready based on lessons learned from people I have been fortunate to be around. Coach Meetze and I have a great friendship, and he is still working in the school building here at Kenmore West, so he will still be someone that I talk to and take advice from all of the time. I’m hoping if he has any free time during the season, he can stop into practice from time to time and run a couple drills and motivate the kids as he does so well. In a decade working with Coach Meetze I have learned so much from him about all the different aspects and factors to consider to have success as a coach and run a successful program, so that is invaluable knowledge and experience that most coaches wouldn’t have starting out as a varsity coach. If coach Meetze decides to get back into high school hoops someday, I certainly hope he is on my staff! There have been others who really helped me along the way as well. I got to work with Jim Badgley as his assistant for a year, and learning from him really helped me understand and see the importance of building strong coach player relationships and seeing the passion he had and the time and effort he put in to helping his team get better each day. Matt Bradshaw at Lew-Port was my JV coach and showed me first hand at a young age the competitive nature that I have tried to emulate which has helped me to be successful in many areas of my life. Jim Walker was my varsity coach for three years, and he taught me so many of the Xs and Os that I’m still teaching our players today. In high school I also played for Niagara PAL, and Sal Constantino showed me the importance of having a sense of humor, but then getting down to business when you get on the court, and his assistant at the time Mark Williams taught me to be humble and make sure every kid feels welcomed and cared about. As long as I remember and appreciate lessons learned, I think it should be a smooth transition!

7.) Do you have a coaching philosophy that you like to stand by? I believe that all members of the team are important to the success of the team, all members of the team have important roles, and as the coach, I need to get them to understand their role and buy into the importance of their role. Like many other jobs working with others, sports is about communication, building relationships, and putting in the work for a common goal. Coaching high school basketball is an opportunity to teach countless lessons beyond the game of basketball, and I am thankful for the opportunity.

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