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Mendota coach Jan Thompson (center) celebrates a play during Mendota’s regional semifinal win over Rock Falls. After losing four starters from last season’s regional championship team, Thompson changed styles to suit his new lineup and led the Trojans to their highest win total since 1995-96. NewsTribune file photo/Chris Yucus
Winning with one team with one skill set is impressive, but being successful with a different philosophy the following year is almost unheard of.
Until Mendota boys basketball coach Jan Thompson did exactly that this season when he took an undersized, quick, athletic team to the Class 3A La Salle-Peru Regional championship one year removed from winning a regional title with a bigger, slower, pound-the-paint style of team.
“I think that it shows that he’s a really good coach because he can infrastructure from one year to the next using two completely different teams,” Trojan senior Mark Prescott said. “The first year I played (varsity), we had to totally slow down and this year he installed an entirely new offense and we were go, go, go. I think that shows that you have to be a very good coach to coach two different teams in two separate years.”
Mendota came into the season knowing the size of the 2012-13 team in post players Trae Blumhorst and Austin O’Sadnick was no longer available.
However, Thompson made some smart decisions once the summer preseason began in order to reshape his team.
Thompson, assistant coach Brian Blumhorst and the rest of the Mendota coaching staff began working with 6-foot-5 Sam Bowne to push him to be their defensive and rebounding anchor in the middle.
Freshman Joe LaShonse was brought up from the sophomore team to play in varsity tournaments through the summer and Ryan Reeder was guided in what to do and not to do on the court in order for the mental aspect of the game to match his athletic ability.
“We did know that we were losing size, but we also knew we had a lot of athletic ability coming back,” Thompson said. “We felt like this year’s team was more athletic than last year’s team. We weren’t sure on some of the basketball skills, but we definitely knew the athletic ability was there.
“Coach Blumhorst and I talked all summer long about how in order for us to be successful we had to play one way — play with our hair on fire and play intense defense. We stuck by it all year long and it worked out with this group of kids.”
As the season started and went on, Bowne became a Dennis Rodman-like rebounder as he led the area with 8.8 boards per game and had efforts such as his double-double of 15 points and 17 rebounds Feb. 21 in a 73-57 win against Big Northern Conference West Division foe Byron. He also tied for third in the area with 2.1 blocks per game.
With Bowne fulfilling Thompson’s need in the middle, he looked for LaShonse to lead the team as the starting point guard. The idea was originally to bring LaShonse up to varsity around Christmas time but he was fast-tracked to the squad when Prescott sustained a concussion at the Colmone Classic in mid December.
Thompson said LaShonse gelled with junior James Carroll — who led the area with 20.7 points per game and is a NewsTribune All-Area First Team member — Reeder and Prescott to form the trail blazing backcourt Mendota needed to be successful.
“We knew we had James coming back and he was the one true solid hole that we had in the starting five,” Thompson said. “We felt Prescott could be another one since he was our sixth man last year. After that, it was pick and choose and fill. Luckily we had some guys step up.”
The Trojans finished the season with a 21-9 overall record, improved from 3-9 in the BNC West last year to 8-4, won the Seneca Thanksgiving Turkey Tournament, made it to the Colmone Classic title game, defeated conference power Winnebago after falling to them earlier in the season and earned a No. 1-seed for the L-P regional.
In the postseason, Mendota made it to its third straight regional championship game before failing to Dixon.
For the Trojans’ accomplishments, Thompson is the 2013-14 NewsTribune Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
This is the second consecutive season Thompson has earned the honor.
“It was tough to not win a regional title this year when we should have,” Carroll said. “For him to go three years in a row is amazing. He does a great job every year, no matter who his players are by making sure everyone works hard and are ready for the postseason.”
The efforts Thompson put forth didn’t have his players only believing in the program for this season, but they’re all aboard for the future as well.
Carroll is already excited for next season under Thompson’s tutelage, even though this one just ended.
“I think before he got here Mendota basketball was never really a force in the area,” Carroll said. “The last couple of years he’s been shaping the program to be good constantly year in and year out. The way he pushes the juniors and sophomores makes them better for the next season.”