It takes hard work and players that believe in you and each other. St. John’s has taken teams to Columbus that are not star-studded teams. They’ve been teams that work hard and played strong defense… Coach Heintschel.
Head Basketball Coach
Toledo St. Johns
State Runners-up 1993, 1996 & 2004
WillofaChampion.com: What qualities must a team have to win a championship?
Coach Heintschel: Individual players must have a team attitude and be willing to put the team before themselves. They must be willing to sacrifice for the team. They have to care for each other. Good defense, play together.
WillofaChampion.com: Of those qualities which ones are inherent in which ones can be developed?
Coach Heintschel: Physical ability is inherent, but the trust is something you try to cultivate. Team comradery can be developed. Players either believe in what you’re doing or not. That is somewhat inherent and developed. For one reason or another players usually decide to trust you before they join your program.
WillofaChampion.com: How did you prepare your players daily so they were able to win a championship?
Coach Heintschel: I will analyze my team and try to understand its weaknesses, and then we focus on shoring up those weaknesses. To do that I think you have to create obstacles for your players that force them to improve. You have to be demanding. You shouldn’t be a jerk about it, but you need to have high expectations and demand a lot from your players to help them become champions.
WillofaChampion.com: If a fellow coach came to you and asked, “What do I have to do to win championship?” How would you answer?
Coach Heintschel: Have good players! Haha J Have good players. Make them play together. Get them to play hard. Get them on the same page and playing as a team as quickly as possible.
WillofaChampion:com: You’ve been able to create a culture of winning year after year. How have you been able to do that?
Coach Heintschel: We have played a very competitive schedule, and by and large have been able to beat very good teams. The leadership of our older players has been crucial. We also push our younger players to play up a level to help them mature quickly. Playing up a level has provided meaningful experiences that have enabled and pushed them to be leaders earlier than they may have expected.
WillofaChampion.com: When you think of the special attributes a player needs to be a champion, what attributes come to mind?
Coach Heintschel: Toughness, sacrifice, willingness to challenge other players to help them get better. That is the difference between a nice and good teammate. You need to be a good teammate, not a nice one.
Willofachampion.com: Are those things that are inherent or can be developed?
Coach Heintschel: They can be developed. It helps to have good role models. A great example is Deandre Ware. He was in Columbus with us the last time we were there. DeAndre started playing sports later in high school. He didn’t play basketball or football until his junior and senior year. But he was an excellent athlete and pushed himself and his teammates so that we were able to get to Columbus. You need players that push other players.
WillofaChampion.com: What do your student’s grades mean to you?
Coach Heintschel: There are about 4 or 5 kids I have to check every Monday. I keep a spreadsheet on them to make sure they are keeping up with their work and their grades. But I see the classroom achievement as similar to basketball achievement. If I have a basketball player, who is in a six, seven or eighth role that is what I expect from them. I don’t expect all my players to get straight A’s. If they are capable of only getting a “B” or “C” then that is what I expect from them. But I learn about my kids from their classroom work ethic. In all the years I have coached there have been very few kids who work hard in one area and not the other. Most kids that work hard on the court work hard in the classroom, and vice versa. Rarely do you have somebody who works hard in only one area and not the other.
WillofaChampion.com: What do you expect from your captains and leaders?
CoachHeintschel: Really every senior, whether he is a captain or not, leads. We tell our kid’s leadership is not a 9 to 5 role but that they have to lead all the time. I expect all the guys to be leaders and lead by example. The kids expect the coach to say this or that, but when kids talk to other kids it is much more effective.
WillofaChampion: What does it take for a player to make it to the collegiate level?
Coach Heintschel: He has to have significant size, athleticism, or he has to have a high level of skill. The guys that make it are the guys that work a lot on there own, going far beyond what we ask them to do. Players that practice ball handling, dribbling, shooting, and are in love with the game and just enjoy playing are the ones that make it. Plus, they don’t mind sacrificing things in the summer to practice so they gain the skills.
WillofaChampion: What does it take for a player to get a scholarship?
Coach Heintschel: It takes the same thing to make it at the collegiate level as to get a scholarship plus some. A player has to look at himself physically and ask, “How many guys look like me?” If you’re 6’9 and there are a few players that can do things that you can at your height, you have great opportunity to get a scholarship. But if you’re 6’0 or 5’11 you better have some pretty special skills.
Joe Jakubowski got a scholarship to go to Bowling Green last year. He actually signed with Rice but changed his mind and went to Bowling Green. Joe is 6’1 but his work ethic is just remarkable. So he made it to the next level with a scholarship. Like Joe, you have to be hungry and stay hungry. You have to work hard you have to be in a program where people can see you. Where you can generate interest and coaches can make calls for you. That is what we did with Zach Hillesland. Zack is at Notre Dame. Notre Dame had called about another player who did not have the grades to go to Notre Dame, but I told them about Zack. They came in and watched him over the summer and they offered him a scholarship.
WillofaChampion: Is that what it takes for a kid to get discovered, coaches calling for him?
Coach Heintschel: We had a kid named Jonothan Dunn who went with us our last time to Columbus. He was not a big guy. George Mason University showed some serious interest and wanted to offer him. This was right before their Cinderella ride in the NCAA tournament. Anyway, they were on the bubble for whether or not they would get into the NCAA tournament and they had a kid who was ineligible because he punched somebody in a game or something like that, so this kid didn’t get to play, then he didn’t get the grades so he dropped out and played at a Junior College in Texas. He got his grades up and is now on a scholarship to Oral Roberts. So there is no one way even if you’re not seen by others, but it definitely helps to be seen. But if you’re not seen it definitely helps to have someone go to bat for you. But most of all, you have to perform to the best of your ability, if you don’t perform then it may not matter who sees you or what high school coach calls for you.
WillofaChampion: Coach, getting to the level that you have is the dream of many, anything you’d add?
Coach Heintschel: You know, at any level, high school, college, or pro, it’s no secret. It takes hard work and players that believe in you and each other. St. John’s has taken teams to Columbus that are not star-studded teams. They’ve been teams that work hard and played strong defense, and I think in high school sometimes that is all you need. In 1993 we played Cincinnati Elder for the State Championship and lost. They did not have one Division I (college prospect) basketball player. They had one guy that played football for Kentucky and that was the most prestigious player for them. They just worked hard and were tough hard-nosed kids and that is really the main ingredient.
Will of a champion: Coach, what is the difference between building a program and maintaining one.
Coach Heintschel: I talked to the coach at Oregon Clay after he came off a great season and he said to me, “I can’t believe you do this every year. It was so hard to do it just one year.” But I don’t dwell on the past. I don’t dwell on what we did last year or what we did two years ago. I believe very much so that we ought to live in the present. I try to focus on what we are doing now. Rick Patino talks about the “precious present,” so we don’t get caught up talking about what happened in the past. We talk about getting better today for tomorrow. Plus, we are in a good situation here at St. Johns. Kids want to come here because it’s a good academic school and because we have good basketball.
WillofaChampion.com: Coach, you mentioned that you don’t talk about “winning”. We have talked to other coaches that stated they talk about winning state championships and what it will take to get there. Do you set a goal to win the state championship and talk about that at the beginning of the year?
Coach Heintschel: Actually, no we don’t. We have been surprised at times when we did make it to the state semifinal or championship because we didn’t talk about it. It took us a while to get good enough to get past the Regional. When I first started we didn’t talk about winning a state championship because we just wanted to get “good” first. So we focused on working hard and becoming a good team, trying to get better each day and since it has worked for us that is how we do it. Our players may talk about winning the state championship. But I don’t talk about it with them. At St. John’s the expectations for success are really high in everything any part of the student body does. Whether its academics, sports, the musical, or the quiz bowl team everyone expects to be successful. We are a very achievement oriented school. Everybody wants to achieve and that carries over to our basketball program as well. We don’t have to be as concerned about creating the expectation of success because St. Johns already has that. So we just focus on getting better each day.
Coach Heintschel’s Coaching Career:
Coach at St Johns for 36 years
Head Coach – 29 years
JV Coach – 5 years
Volunteer Coach – 1 year
Interview: November, 2007