Bath, Elida, Lima Central Catholic and Shawnee head for the Fieldhouse in Elida this weekend to compete in the Tip-Off Classic, an event that has been a popular opening act for boy’s-basketball locally for the past 31 years. The atmosphere created by this unique early season tournament continues to provide players and fans alike with an early glimpse at who may be some of this year’s most competitive teams and players.
An interesting sidebar in this year’s tournament are the new coaches making their first appearance on the sideline in the Tip-Off and their unique relationship with those they will be matching wits with on the opposite bench.
In my own career, I discovered that the coaching fraternity is a pretty tight-knit crew and you could count on support and advice from many of the coaches who you were competing against. In fact, many of those who I admire the most and count as friends today are coaches who I once engaged in “mortal combat” as we basically tried to beat the stuffing out of each other. This is especially true when competing against passionate rivals, but the line was rarely crossed and sportsmanship was achieved and respect remained intact regardless of the outcome of the games. However, I will admit that there were a few opposing coaches in my career who never took off their game face.
Elida’s new head coach, Matt Tabler, will be only the third mentor in Bulldog history to lead a team into the Tip-Off. After fourteen years at Perry, Tabler moves across town and his first game pits him against his alma mater, LCC, and his long-time friend, Frank Kill.
Bath’s new head coach, Sean Powell, fresh off an impressive state championship season at Botkins, will face his alma mater, Shawnee, in the opener Friday night. Powell and Shawnee’s head coach, Mark Triplet, coached in the Indian basketball program at the same time and are also good friends.
Tabler, who played in two Tip-Offs while in high school, remembers the first time he walked into the Elida Fieldhouse as a boy. “My dad took me to a game at the Fieldhouse as a kid and I was in awe, I thought it was the Taj Mahal,” he remembers. I still feel that way every time I walk into the Fieldhouse and think about all the great coaches who have coached in here over the years.”
Tabler will be leading a very young Elida squad into the tournament and he will be competing against his confidant, Frank Kill. It’s not the first time the two coaches have met. While at Perry, Tabler took three out of four from his friend. “We root for each other every game but one,” he says.
Frank Kill, who begins his 11th season leading the T-Birds and has won two state championships and four Tip-Off Classics, says the two have never let their games with each other get in the way of their friendship. “It’s always a chess match with Matt,” says Kill. “But regardless of the outcome, we are always there for each other.”
Bath’s head coach Powell was a thousand-point scorer for Shawnee during his high school playing days and remembers his first time playing in the Tip Off. “I was only a freshman and happy to just get the chance to dress for the game,” he recalls. “In the first quarter, Coach Heisten walked down the bench and sent me into the game. I ran on the court and the first thing I did was crash into LCC’s Matt Bonito (6’5” 255 lbs.) on a pick. It was a rude introduction to varsity basketball.” It was also the beginning of a great career which now leads him back to the basketball court where it all began.
Powell acknowledges the friendship with Shawnee’s coach Triplett but feels it only fuels his fire. “I am close to coach Triplett but it only makes me want to win even more, and I know he feels the same way,” says Powell. “I still have a lot of competitiveness in me and it drives me to be more prepared.”
Coach Triplett, who led the Indians to state last season and has won the last three Tip-Off’s, agrees with Powell. “I know how competitive Sean is. The competitive fire is always there and whenever you go against coaches you know, you want it a little more.”
All the coaches acknowledged the limitations present in the highly anticipated Tip-Off Classic, especially for those schools relying on athletes who are still competing in Fall sports or who only recently completed their season and are expected to compete in spite of limited practice time.
“I’ve learned that the team that hits the floor in the Tip-Off is often not the same team that we will become in February and March,” says coach Kill.
Coach Triplett finds the games at the Tip-Off gives coaches “an excellent opportunity to find out how our players will perform under the bright lights, especially those players who are competing at the varsity level for the first time.”
This year marks the first time that all four coaches in the Tip-Off have steered teams to the state tournament during their careers.
Good luck to all four schools and all local and area teams making their debut this weekend.
Keep in mind that it’s not how you start anything, it’s how you finish it that counts.