With the boys basketball season right around the corner, a few of the coaches in the Mississippi Athletic Conference have been focused on things beyond the hardwood.
"My biggest challenge is getting to know everyone's names," Muscatine coach John Windham said at the annual MAC boys basketball luncheon hosted by the Davenport Noon Optimist Club at the RiverCenter. "It's going to be a challenge, but I told the kids, one thing we will do, we'll come out every night and play hard."
Windham is one of four new coaches this season, along with Burlington's Reggie Shipp, Clinton's Troy Ersland and Davenport West's David Robinson.
While several of the established coaches are focusing on seasons filled with high expectations — North Scott was picked by coaches to win the league, followed by Bettendorf, Pleasant Valley and a tie between Davenport Central and Assumption — some of the new coaches are working on taking steps to build their programs up.
"We don't have a youth program, but we're slowly and surely getting going," Ersland said. "We had good numbers at our summer camp with our kids, we've had good numbers in the fall and we've got some parents that are showing an eagerness to participate and coach. ... That's exciting because you get to build it from the ground up."
Three of these teams are used to making the transition from one coach to another, with Burlington, Clinton and Muscatine all replacing coaches who were with the program for three years or less.
For Robinson and the Falcons, however, this is something of unfamiliar territory as they move on from Mark Bigler, who resigned after 14 seasons with Davenport West.
Robinson has ties to the area, having played for Rock Island under the late Duncan Reid from 1989-91 and also spending a year with the Quad-City Thunder in the Continental Basketball Association.
He has been an assistant coach for United Township and spent the last two seasons on Bigler's staff at West, serving last year as the head sophomore coach.
"It's been exciting. I'm happy, the kids are excited. They're looking forward to something different and new," Robinson said. "We're definitely not going to be the style that Bigler has, totally opposite of what we're doing. We're going to be fast-paced, up-tempo."
The Falcons won 15 games last year but graduated all five starters from that team. Malik Westerfield is the team's top returning player after averaging 3.2 points per game last year.
Having a familiar face on the bench should help in the transition for a young Falcons team.
"Ever since last year when he was helping us out, he's taught the players a lot, how to be better players and how to be better people outside of basketball," Westerfield said of Robinson. "I like the up-tempo offense we have. It gives us more conditioning so we can play all four quarters without getting tired. When we play our full-court defense, it really puts a lot of pressure on the other teams. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it plays out."
Though the four new coaches have their work cut out for them, there's still time to settle in as teams can't start practicing until Nov. 12, with the first games scheduled for Nov. 26. That's plenty of time to figure out who the key players are going to be for each team, and also time to learn everyone's names.
"I think our guys are eager and hungry, and we want to make a statement in the MAC that we're going to surprise some teams," Robinson said. "We're going to surprise a lot of teams. We're going to play hard from beginning to end."