by Beau Wicker
Logansport girls basketball coach Jerry Hoover knew the potential was there this year for something special.
After all, the Berries have arguably the top senior in the state, Whitney Jennings, and one of the top juniors, Nakeya Penny.
And Hoover knew with hard work and development, the role players had the talent and athleticism to really help the team by the end of the season and tournament time, just like they have done.
Not only did the Berries win their first regional title in program history on Saturday, Hoover, 79, won the first regional title of his 34-year high school coaching career. He was a boys coach at various spots the first 22 years of his career and has coached the Logan girls the last 12.
Hoover’s calling card as a high school coach has been building up struggling programs, which helps to explain why he finally won his first regional title.
“That’s one of the reasons,” he said. “I’ve won six sectionals and had won five up until last week and never won a regional. At Ben Davis we got beat by one point on a terrible call when Tech beat us. Muncie Central beat Tech by two and Muncie Central won the state. So we were in the running there. At Kankakee Valley we won the sectional and had the ball in there air in the night game to beat Lafayette Jeff after they had won 27 straight regionals and it didn’t fall for us. So we’ve been close but no cigar.”
Logansport athletic director Greg Fisher knew Hoover well and his history of building programs when he hired him.
“When our program was struggling I remember coach Hoover saying that ‘I can make this program successful,’” Fisher said. “That was a big boast at that time. He knew that it wasn’t going to happen in one year, it wasn’t going to happen in two years, it wasn’t going to happen in three years. He changed the culture of girls basketball at that time. One is he got them interested in play basketball. Coach has gone out and made basketball available to any kid in the Logansport system that wants to play. They don’t spend any money to play in his program. He has done a phenomenal job of making it available. As a result kids have come in and got involved.”
Hoover went 19-69 (.216) his first four seasons at Logansport. The Berries went 16-8 and won a sectional title in 2007 in what was the turnaround year for the program.
In the last eight seasons the Berries have gone 141-26 (.844) and won four North Central Conference titles, three sectional titles and now a regional title. They have won three straight NCC titles and 20 league games in a row.
Of course it helps that Jasmine Penny, who now stars at DePaul, entered the program the 2007 season and the Berries have had Iowa recruit Jennings the last four years, but there have been many other key contributors and several go on to play in college.
Another of Hoover’s specialties is getting his players set up to play in college. He was a men’s college assistant and scout for many years with stops at Indiana State and St. Joseph’s.
His knack for spotting a player with attributes to play in college at various levels has carried over from the boys game to the girls game.
“Some guys fish, some guys hunt, some guys woodwork, some guys collect stamps, some guys rebuild cars. Coach Hoover is basketball,” Fisher said. “Basketball is his career, basketball is his hobby, basketball has been his life. So as a result of that, he has been around a lot of coaches who do that for a living also. He spends a lot of time with college coaches and he knows what college coaches are looking for and he’s able to see those things that they average person wouldn’t notice.
“He’s outstanding at getting those people noticed, matching them with the right places and ultimately get college scholarships for those kids.”
Hoover has been able to find plenty of diamonds in the rough at Class 4A Logansport.
“The diamonds in the rough are always there, you’ve just got to find them,” he said. “Whitney Jennings is no diamond in the rough, I’ll tell you that right now.”
One of Hoover’s former players from his early days at Logan, Kerri Goodrich Lines, is now an assistant at Penn, the Berries’ semistate opponent on Saturday. She was a track standout at Logansport who Hoover wishes he would have had more time to develop into more of a basketball player.
“It’ll be nice to see her. I haven’t seen her since she left here. She was a good athlete,” Hoover said.
Hoover likes to quote legendary coaches like John Wooden and Bob Knight when he speaks publicly. He said he got the opportunity to talk basketball and life with Wooden for seven and a half hours in Wooden’s Los Angeles apartment with six other coaches one day.
Hoover had two players, Dave Abbring and Randy Wittman, recruited by Knight to West Point and Indiana, respectively, and he said he considers Knight a friend.
Jennings has enjoyed playing her high school career under Hoover.
“A lot of people often say that he’s forgotten more about basketball than a lot of people will ever know. I think that’s true,” she said.
Jennings was also happy to help Hoover win a regional title.
“Everything he’s done for me over the years and this program and just to be able to get it to where it is today, I’m happy to be able to get one for him,” she said.
Nakeya Penny was also happy to win the regional for her coach.
“He was really excited. He was nervous all week but he kept pushing us to know that we can win it, we can win it, and we really did it for him,” she said. “Hoover, he pushes us hard each and every day. We work hard for him and he’s just a good coach and it feels good to win it for him.”
Hoover’s intensity on the sidelines and in practices in his younger days was legendary, Fisher said. He said at 6-foot-7 he sort of resembled the Rifleman from the old TV show on the sidelines and could be intimidating.
“Coach Hoover was very intense and I’ll say that and there would be a lot of adjectives that you could probably put with that,” Fisher said. “But again it was because the love of the game. He truly has set an example here.”
Hoover has mellowed at his older age.
“I’ve had to. I don’t necessarily want to,” he said. “But you can’t coach girls the same way you do boys. And you can’t coach in 2014 like you did in 1978. You have to change or it just won’t work.”
Fisher said that it has worked.
“He’s proven he’s quite capable of dealing with 15, 16, 17 and 18 year olds and that’s not easy to do,” he said. “When it boils down to that chemistry that’s necessary, I sense a great chemistry between them and him.”