There is going to be an unusual sight at Newman boys basketball games next season.
Ray Sharp will still be prowling the sidelines as head coach, but for the first time in a long time, he won't be coaching his son, A.J. The father-son combination will be making its swan song tonight when the Sauk Valley Media All-Star Classic is played at Musgrove Fieldhouse in Sterling.
Ray began coaching his son in the YMCA league, when A.J. was 4. When A.J. entered fifth grade and played at St. Mary's grade school, his father became the coach.
The only break in the chain came 5 years ago, when A.J. was in eighth grade, and Ray joined the high school staff as an assistant to Mike Papoccia, and the following season, when Ray took over as varsity coach and A.J. was a freshman.
A.J. was a part-time varsity starter as a sophomore, and became a full-timer when starting point guard Lucas Terveer went down late in the regular season. The Comets posted records of 29-3, 25-5 and 22-11 the past three seasons, due in large part to A.J.'s steady hand at the point.
Coach looked at son as another coach on the floor.
"He knows what I'm thinking," Ray said, "so most of the time, he's going to get done what I want done. We're really going to miss that, and I'm going to have to coach a lot better in games than what I did."
That's not to say there weren't issues, as A.J. was quick to point out. He used the word "tough" to describe playing for his father.
"It's not as easy as people think," A.J. said. "You definitely get yelled at more. It gets brought home. It causes unnecessary fights, but it's definitely helped me as a player. Getting in the gym whenever I want, it's a great gift to be able to have a dad as a coach. I think I know the game more."
He'll put those talents to use tonight with a roster that he's very familiar with. Three of his Newman teammates (Nate Terveer, Micah Trancoso, and John Payan) are on the squad, and he played AAU ball with three more (Oregon's Jessie McKinley, Amboy's Damon Quest, and Polo's Brian Cavanaugh).
"I know what most of them are going to do," A.J. said, "and playing against them, you get to know their strengths and weaknesses."
A.J. is playing in a league at Augustana College in Rock Island twice a week this summer, with an eye toward preparing himself to play at Sauk Valley Community College this winter. He's focusing on becoming a better ballhandler, with scoring becoming less of a priority. He averaged 14.1 points for the Comets as a senior.
"Defenders pick you up, and it's a lot more physical," A.J. said. "They're a lot quicker, and you can't blow by as easily. Definitely changing speeds and changing directions is a big thing I've got to work on at the college level."
Tonight, however, he will look to put on a show.
"Anytime you shoot a lot in a game is always fun," A.J. said. "Anytime you score a lot of points, which most of the time you do in an all-star game, it'll be fun."
Coach Sharp's Telegraph squad practiced on Sunday and Monday night this week. The main thing that was accomplished was to shake some of the rust out and learn the players' names. There were no offensive or defensive schemes discussed.
"The biggest thing is we want the players to have fun," coach Sharp said. "We'll just spread the floor, let them play, and not be too structured in what we do. I think the guys will play better that way. If you try to put in a bunch of structure with guys you've only got for a couple of practices, they're going to be thinking more than they're going to be playing."
A.J. Sharp file
High school: Newman (2014 graduate)
College: Sauk Valley
FYI: 3-sport (football, basketball, baseball) athlete for Comets. ... Guided football team to 2A state title and basketball team to Elite Eight.
Ray Sharp file
FYI: Has 129-69 record in two stints as Newman boys basketball coach, including 93-28 mark the past 4 years. ... Works at Wahl Clipper in Sterling as Global Chief Information Officer