By BRETT MARSHALL
Glenn O'Neil won't quite say it, but a head coach in sports is something like a conductor with a big orchestra.
You've got to put all the right people, playing the right instruments, playing the right notes, to make a musical work sound good.
Basketball might not be quite like a big orchestral work, but there are some similarities.
So when O'Neil, the 16-year veteran coach of the Scott City boys basketball team, began the 2011-12 season, he knew he many of the right players, hopefully playing the right instruments, would put together a body of work that could be celebrated.
The result was that the Beavers went on a 25-1 season run and in the process defended their Class 3A state championship with a resounding 61-47 victory over Nemaha Valley two weeks ago.
For the second straight year, O'Neil has garnered The Telegram's Boys Coach of the Year honor. Last year, he shared the award with Greeley County's Jeff Starkey.
"We knew we had a lot of pieces of the puzzle," O'Neil said in talking about his preseason thoughts on the Beavers. "We just weren't sure how everybody was going to mesh."
The Beavers had lost two starters from their 2011 championship team, including all-stater Ron Baker, now at Wichita State University. To work on the Beavers' puzzle, O'Neil moved junior Tyler Hess from a post position to a wing; junior Drew Kite moved into the starting lineup at a forward spot; and he sprinkled in a solid group of reserves to go with returning starters Brett O'Neil, Braeden Robinson and Joey Meyer.
"Drew came in and did a super job for us," coach O'Neil said of The Telegram's Co-Player of the Year. "Braeden (lone senior starter) and Brett both had to expand their roles. The big question was who was going to be the vocal leader. Neither Braeden or Brett had been vocal in the past, so we needed somebody to step into that role. We got better with that as the season progressed."
Despite losing Baker's 22-point scoring average, coach O'Neil said he wasn't overly concerned with replacing those points.
"I knew it would be more by committee and that we'd have different people able to pick up the slack, and spread the points around," O'Neil said. "The big concern for me was on defense. Defensive-wise, I knew that's where we would miss Ron the most."
In the week following the state championship game, coach O'Neil was reviewing season statistics and the similarity to the year before was quite compelling.
"A year ago we averaged 69 points, gave up 43," coach O'Neil said. "This year, it was 68.5 to 43.8. Everything kind of fell into place and we had an outstanding season."
Two games, both against Wichita Word of Life, a private academy with prep standouts from Africa and East European countries, had much to do with the Beavers' success.
They lost at Wichita in early December, 60-49, but came back in late January and won at home, 56-45.
"The loss told us we weren't as good as we wanted to be, and the win taught us that if we played hard, and played great defense, we could be a good team," O'Neil said of those two games.
O'Neil said he thought the team's previous year's experience played a major factor in this year's performance in Hutchinson.
"I don't think there's any substitution for experience," the Beavers' coach said. "I thought our kids were more comfortable, confident in what they needed to do."
O'Neil said he was still amazed at the statistic that the Beavers had trailed for all of 42 seconds in the three games of the state tourney. That came in the first quarter of the quarterfinal win over Beloit. After that, wins over Rock Creek and Nemaha Valley never saw the Beavers behind.
The championship performance, especially a first-quarter blitz that saw them jump out to a 15-0 lead in the first seven minutes, eventually building it to 29-7, was something coach O'Neil will not soon forget.
"The impressive part of that first quarter (18-3 lead) is that of our first six baskets, we had six different players with an assist. A lot of that is the trust they have in each other. It was fun to watch, but we knew the game was far from over."
With the season now behind him, O'Neil said he was able to look back more fondly on the fact that he was able to coach his two sons — junior Brett and freshman Trey. It was something he could not focus on during the season.
"During the season, it's more a player-coach and not a son-dad relationship," coach O'Neil said. "When the season is over you get a chance to look back over and it's an experience you wouldn't trade for anything."
During his career, O'Neil has posted an overall 440-184 record (.705), including a mark of 281-100 (.738) at Scott City. He has taken teams to the state tournament while at Frankfort (Class 1A and 2A) and Scott City (Class 3A and 4A). This year's championship was his third with the Beavers, adding in his first in 2006.
Shed no tears for the Beavers. They graduate only two seniors with Robinson the lone senior starter leaving.