By the 2008-09 basketball season, Glenn O’Neil had already established himself as one of the best high school coaches in western Kansas.
One state championship (2006) and one runner-up the following year of 2007, will offer that the then Scott City boys basketball coach knew how to win.
Little could anyone know, however, what the next eight years would produce. Not even O’Neil himself, now two years removed from high school basketball coaching, could have imagined a run like the Beavers produced in the early 2010s.
And for this period of time, the Beavers won an astonishing 174 games against just 25 losses, an .874 winning percentage.
For the dominating performance of his teams during the past 10 years, The Telegram selected O’Neil as its Boys Coach of the Decade for a time frame covering 2008-09 to 2017-18.
“Well, I’m certainly honored and really don’t know what to say,” O’Neil said earlier this week in a telephone interview. “It’s a reflection on how fortunate I was to have a lot of good kids who bought into the system. We didn’t need stars, because they got their success because of the success of their teams.”
Like many western Kansas teams, O’Neil had to battle some of that eastern Kansas talk about the western portion of the state not playing good basketball. The Beavers proved the naysayers wrong on more than one occasion.
“I think we just tried to convince them that they were good enough and they wanted to prove people wrong,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil had always been a successful coach, suffering just three losing seasons in his 30 years on the bench at three different schools. But to oversee a five-year stretch like he did, well, even he would have had a hard time drawing up this game plan.
Just as a reminder, it went something like this:
2011: Ron Baker scores the winning basket with 2.6 seconds left to give the Beavers a dramatic 55-53 win over Minneapolis to claim the Class 3A state championship. It was Baker’s first, and only, trip to the state tournament. The Beavers finished 25-1.
2012: A year later, the Drew Kite-Brett O’Neil-Joey Meyer led Beavers produced what may have been the best quarter of basketball O’Neil had seen a team of his play, dismantling Nemaha Valley 18-3 in the first eight minutes en route to a dominating 61-47 win for the school’s second straight state title, and fourth overall. Season record, 25-1.
2013: With Kite-O’Neil-Meyer now seniors, and a second O’Neil, Trey, a sophomore, the Beavers performed in razor-like fashion, leading 44-32 at halftime as four players were in double figures, before finishing off with a 74-55 victory over the previously unbeaten Humboldt Cubs for a 3-peat as Class 3A state champs. Season record, 25-1.
2014: Moving up to Class 4A-II, a new cast of Beavers made a run at four in a row, but came up short in a 71-58 loss to Eudora at Hartman Arena. Season record, 21-4.
2015: Returning to Class 3A and earning another trip to Hutchinson and the Sports Arena, Trey O’Neil’s squad rallied to beat one of the big name schools in Kansas basketball, Wichita Collegiate, 60-48. Season record: 25-1.
For that handful of seasons, the Beavers amassed 121 wins against just eight losses (.938 winning percentage).
A year later, in the middle of the 2015-16 basketball season, O’Neil announced that he was leaving Scott City after 20 seasons to coach football at Topeka Seaman.
His final team went 18-6 and lost to eventual state champion Sabetha in overtime in the first round of Class 3A.
It had been quite a run for O’Neil, having coached future Wichita State University star Ron Baker, and both of his sons, Brett and Trey, both of which went on to play NCAA Division II ball.
“I think I was very lucky to have good assistants, who always did a good job of scouting our opponents and putting together good game plans,” O’Neil said. “We were always pretty well prepared with our fundamentals and I think we tried to play to the strengths of our team.”
O’Neil, while being demanding, said he also tried to make practices fun.
“We didn’t want it to be a drag,” he said. “If you want to have fun, competing is fun, and the winning will take care of itself.”
Whether it was a picture-perfect pass, a fast break where the ball never touched the floor, finding an open teammate, O’Neil enjoyed seeing his teams score. But he also was a master on the defensive end of the court.
“I think our defense confused people, trying to figure out if we’re playing man or zone,” O’Neil said. “I think we just always tried to play to our strengths.”
Pausing for a moment to consider the decade of excellence, O’Neil said it was an amazing experience.
“Really incredible, if I just take a minute to think about it,” O’Neil said. “I’m kind of amazed at the success we had, but I’m more proud of the type of individuals they’ve become.”