Jan Braden has two decades of coaching experience.
This will be his first stint as a varsity head coach.
The Pana school district anointed Braden to be its next high school girls basketball coach on June 23. He replaces Brent McKinney, who resigned in May after leading the Panthers to the Class 2A state finals.
“I really look forward to it,” Braden said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I finally got to meet all of the girls and actually see them play because I hadn't done that yet. I see a lot of talent and I think we're going to have another good season.”
In boys basketball news, Corbin Govaia and Neil Ferris also nabbed their first head coaching jobs over the spring. Govaia will succeed Kyle McBrain at Hillsboro, while Ferris replaces Jeff Lueschen at Lutheran.
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Long time coming for Braden
Braden, a 1975 Sullivan graduate, assisted the Effingham St. Anthony girls basketball team last season and led its junior high program. He previously assisted Mount Pulaski’s girls basketball team for two seasons.
“I really enjoy it,” said Braden, who is retired from law enforcement. “I love the game. I like helping the girls to be successful whether it's in basketball or anything else. I was coaching when I was working, and most of that was junior high because I didn't feel like I had the time to be a high school head coach.
“But once I retired, I thought maybe I should start looking for some high school jobs and see if I can't get something there and I fortunately got hired at Pana.”
Braden, a Sullivan resident, also intends to coach seventh grade to help implement his new system.
“We'll run a lot of the same things,” Braden said. “We're going to try to get up and down the floor and get some easy shots off our press. We lost a lot of seniors last year, but we have eight returning again this year, so we've got a lot of returners and a lot of experience and intelligence, so it shouldn't be too tough.
“I'm not going to be Brett McKinney because that's not who I am. I'll be my own coach. He had a wonderful year last year, and I just hope we can come close to that success this year.”
McKinney said in a Facebook post that he was stepping down from the coaching position due to a comment made by Pana athletic director Adam Haston about McKinney's hearing disability, the Decatur Herald & Review reported in May. McKinney will remain on the teaching staff.
The Panthers (36-2) earned third place in their first state finals appearance since 2003, led by graduate and all-state forward Jillian Hamilton. Braden believes returning senior guard Anna Beyers also has that all-state potential.
“I think I've walked into a real good situation here,” Braden said.
Taking the next step at Hillsboro
Govaia’s dad, Monte, served as president of the Junior Football League in Litchfield. That’s ultimately what lured Govaia into coaching as early as 14 years old.
“Once I saw my dad doing it and how much love he had for it, it's definitely helped me out,” Govaia said.
The 2008 Litchfield graduate arrived in Hillsboro as an assistant football coach under Aaron Duff in 2017. He later became an assistant boys basketball coach in 2019.
Govaia will still assist the football team under Joe Reed as he takes over the lead role on the hardwood.
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“I've had numerous kids reach out to me that I've coached in the past," Govaia said. "I have a lot of them playing college ball right now, college football, baseball and basketball. The fact that they can still reach out afterwards really kind of tells you that you've made an impact on their lives.
“To me, it's about winning, yes, but to an extent, I want to make an impact on every single one of my kids and I feel like I have done that for the last four or five years at Hillsboro.”
The way he describes his approach to basketball sounds something like football.
“The style is run-and-gun, try to get up and down the court,” Govaia said. “We have four or five guards that can get to the rim well, and we have some shooters as well. We're not technically big. We have Blaze Helton in the middle. He'll probably be an all-state running back this year.
“There's some other kids and other underclassmen that are going to definitely help us out. We're not going to be big, but we're going to be physical and we're not going to let anybody push us around, that's for sure.”
'In a perfect spot' at Lutheran
Ferris, a 2016 Calvary graduate, switches sides in the “Holy War” rivalry.
He assisted the Rochester girls basketball team under J.R. Boudouris for three seasons after helping out Tives Gardner at his alma mater for a season.
Ferris said Gardner unveiled the inside scoop into coaching while Boudouris provided different insights into the game.
“I'm always thankful for coach Gardner for giving me my start in coaching,” Ferris said, “but it's just different going into a different program than the one that you grew up in and just seeing a different program operate. I was like a sponge trying to soak up everything I could, just drink out of a firehose really.”
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Ferris also appreciates the Christian aspect at Lutheran. He also serves as a pastor over the weekends at Tower Hill Christian Church near Pana.
“As I've gotten older and gotten into coaching, I love this game and I love the kids, and I'm here to help kids get better and I'm here to help them grow as human beings,” Ferris said. “I think sports are vital to helping (them) grow into young men and be ready to be leaders in their household and their jobs.
"I've learned to love that part of the job and be that leader. But I would say probably that senior year of high school, getting that opportunity to be a team captain for coach Gardner was kind of the start of that.”
Lutheran went 3-26 last season, but Ferris is resolute about this upcoming season.
“I've been preaching all summer ... we're going to shock some people this year,” Ferris said. “I really do believe that. I think there's a ton of potential in the gym. We've got nine seniors, so we've got a big senior class of kids that come in and work really hard every day.
“I told them we're in a perfect spot. Nobody expects us to do anything this year, and I expect a lot of big things from these boys this year. I think we're going to be hopefully right back to where LuHi was in 2014 and 2015 as soon as this year.”
Contact Bill Welt: (217) 788-1545, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/BillWelt
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: IHSA basketball: Pana, Hillsboro, Lutheran hire new coaches