By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — When Tom Brannan started 1-10 in his first season as boys basketball coach at Marshall High School, folks in this eastern Illinois community might have wondered if he’d ever reach three career victories, let alone 300.
“There were probably some doubters,” he admitted.
But Brannan, who previously served as an assistant coach at Breese Mater Dei High School, persevered and Marshall rallied to post a respectable 10-15 record in 1992-93.
In the 15 seasons since then, Brannan’s Lions have never finished below .500. Seven times, they’ve racked up 20 wins or more.
This season is likely to become the eighth for Marshall, which will put a 17-2 record on the line against Flora (13-9) in tonight’s championship game of the Little Illini Conference tournament at Red Hill. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. CST.
Marshall already defeated Flora 72-56 Dec. 8, but Brannan warned that the Wolves are a different team than they were then.
“They’re just kinda getting healthy,” he explained. “They’ve had some guys battling injuries and illnesses, but they’re back now.”
One of those recovered players is 6-foot-6 senior guard Ian Ridge, who did not play Dec. 8 because of an illness.
“It’s going to be a real good game,” Brannan predicted. “Their size is a concern for us. They start 6-6, 6-6 and 6-4 up front. We will have to do a better job of boxing out and keeping them off the glass. We didn’t do a great job of that against Cumberland [in a 76-59 triumph Tuesday in the LIC tournament semifinals].”
Despite Brannan being mildly unhappy with Tuesday’s performance, it still resulted in his 300th career victory. That may not be as many as Cloverdale’s Pat Rady (678 in 44 years) or Terre Haute North’s Jim Jones (677 in 45 years) in Indiana, but Brannan is only 41.
If Brannan coaches another 20 or 25 years, who knows how many wins he’ll compile?
Brannan was quick to credit his assistant coaches for the program’s success in the last 16 seasons. Current aides are full-timer Chris Kessler and volunteer Pat Duncan, plus Brannan wanted to thank former assistant Dan Wilson for all of his help over the years.
“We’ve also had some good players come through here,” reflected Brannan, who lives in Marshall with his supportive wife, Sarah, and their 9-year-old son, Kobe. “You can’t be a successful coach without having successful players.”
When the Lions won their only regional title under Brannan in 1993-94, they were led on the court by Brian Ross, Mack Thompson and Shane Cheesman.
The 2007-08 Lions, who should be top contenders for another regional championship, are led by junior brothers Lucas and Logan Eitel, both 6-4, and 6-2 sophomore Taylor Duncan. Lucas is averaging 15.7 points per game, while Logan is next at 15.3 ppg (plus 8.7 rebounds per outing) and young Duncan is at 13.2 ppg.
Marshall certainly made its mark in the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic last month at Terre Haute North, finishing runner-up to tournament champion Terre Haute South.
The Lions usually don’t hesitate to fire up shots. They score approximately 70 points per contest.
“We get up and down the floor,” Brannan pointed out. “We attack the basket … but we also take a lot of pride in our defense.”
Brannan, who also teaches history and geography at Marshall, is not sure how much longer he’ll coach. He acknowledged that he may want to go into school administration someday.
“But I don’t want to give up coaching,” Brannan insisted, “at least not yet.”
He said one reason for his hesitancy to leave coaching is the mature behavior of his players.
“They hand the ball to the referees,” Brannan mentioned. “They don’t taunt other teams. I’m very proud of this team. They have a respect for the game.”
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.