“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” – Oprah Winfrey
By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Coaches, like any good leader, are only as good as the people surrounding them. So to be the best, associate with the best.
Bedford North Lawrence’s Jeff Allen, one of the state’s rising stars on the sideline after winning 133 games in six seasons and taking home eight postseason trophies, does not operate alone. Nor could he. The success of the Stars is a team effort from every angle, on the floor and on the sideline.
Allen’s circle of assistants is tight, experienced and proven. It’s one of the behind-the-scenes reasons BNL (21-5) is headed to the Class 4A semistate to face No.8 Lawrence North (24-4) on Saturday afternoon at Jeffersonville.
Between Brett Holtz, Mandy Harrell and Chase Spreen, they have 27 years of coaching expertise. Add in Dave Horton, whose list of responsibilities range from scheduling to referee analysis, and the Stars are blessed with outstanding leadership. The program is in good hands.
Allen is quick to rely on input from his staff, to listen to suggestions, to adjust when necessary. They do a lot of the scouting and help scour game films, gather stats and get the Stars prepared for the opponent.
“First of all, they’re great people,” Allen said. “You have to have people of high character that kind of fit the same personality, the same beliefs. When you have that, you have a team of people that can work togther. We do that very well.
“They all have high basketball IQs. We share the same philosophies, how the game should be played. When you find that mix, it’s rare, to find a group that gets along like we do.”
This scene is repeated often during the course of a game: Allen watches the action on the court, turns and asks questions. Sometimes it’s to vent to Horton about an official’s questionable call or blatant mistake. Sometimes it’s to seek an opinion from those he trusts to steer him toward the right decision.
“I don’t see it all, and I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know it all,” Allen said. “That’s why I surround myself with good people. You’re only as smart as the people around you. They provide me encouragement when I feel like I’m struggling, or I don’t like the way we’re doing things. You have to have that. Their input is very valuable. You need those sets of eyes.”
Spreen, a former BNL standout (2008 graduate) who later played for Lindsey Wilson, is in his fifth season with the Stars.
“One thing Coach Allen does a great job of, that some coaches don’t, is just listen,” Spreen said. “He takes our feedback and applies it in situations where we need to adjust. We give him feedback, things we see on the floor, giving him our thoughts on adjustments and anything we see.”
Harrell is in her seventh year. She’s the varsity assistant who acts as the team liaison between the staff and the athletes, waiting for the right moment to inject her thoughts.
“I try to stay positive, keep a positive outlook on what’s happening and keep us going on to the next play,” Harrell said. “You can get stuck in the past, or you can move on.
”Jeff has gotten better and better every year. He takes feedback from us and tries to filter through it. At the end of the day, he has to be the one that makes the decision. And we’ve gotten better at communicating what our opinions are, knowing and trusting he will do what he thinks is best.”
Last week’s regional triumph produced a case-in-point moment for an example of the staff interaction. East Central star Josie Trabel was tormenting the Stars with 15 points in the first half. The staff suggested the switch of Gracie Crulo-Rood to stop the freshman scorer, and Allen listened. It worked as BNL battled back.
“There’s at least one example like that every game,” Allen said.
Holtz, the junior varsity coach, is the veteran of the group, now in her 15th season under her fourth head coach.
“I have to give Coach a lot of credit that he trusts us and relies on us,” Holtz said. “It’s like a family atmosphere.”
Speaking of family, this is Allen’s first season without a daughter on the roster. That required an adjustment in strategy and style. It made everyone a better coach.
“A lot of the time last year, the ball went through No.33 (Miss Basketball Jorie Allen),” Spreen said. “What makes this team special is our balance. We’ve had to think a little bit more, what really works, or go to the hot hand, rather than figuring out ways to get the ball to 33.”
Allen is still intense, scowling, demanding. His voice is thundering in the huddle, easily heard when issuing offensive sets or defensive changes. This could be his best coaching season of his six, in part because he doesn’t feel the pressure of the coach-daughter relationship, in part because the Stars have exceeded the preseason expectations.
“It may not look it, but I don’t feel stressed all the time,” Allen said. “It’s been a lot of fun this year. I’ve got a good group of kids, that I consider all of them a little bit my daughter.
“I think I’ve mellowed a little. I coach in a much more relaxed state than I used to. And part of that is coaching girls. With girls, they really try to execute and do what you want them to. It’s much more enjoyable.”
Allen’s Stars will meet Lawrence North at 3:30 p.m., with the winner to face either Northwestern (28-0) or Penn (27-2) in the state championship at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Feb. 29.