Two local athletes who could really put the ball in the basket and two coaches who helped their players with that skill will be honored on Saturday in Normal.
Jocelyn Mellen, Isaiah Johnson, Russ Damhoff and Brad Bickett will be among those recognized at the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
A reception is slated from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Chateau Hotel in Normal. At 4:30 p.m., doors to Redbird Arena on the Illinois State University campus will open. The banquet will begin at 5:30 p.m., with closing remarks scheduled for approximately 9 p.m.
Mellen becomes the second member of her family to earn a spot in the IBCA Hall of Fame. Her father, Paul, was a standout at LaSalle-Peru High School and a 2001 inductee.
“I was kind of surprised because I thought this was only for old people,” Jocelyn said with a laugh. “I guess I am getting old. This really is quite an honor. To be alongside my dad, it makes it that much more special.”
Mellen, a 2006 Newman graduate, was a dominant force inside for the Comets. She was a late-season call-up as a freshman, then wreaked havoc the next three seasons.
As a sophomore, the 6-foot-1 Mellen led Newman to a 26-5 record with averages of 17.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.4 blocked shots, 2.5 steals and 1.9 assists per game.
In her junior season, Mellen
averaged 19.1 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.1 blocks, 2.9 assists and 2.7 steals to lead the Comets to a 26-7 record and a berth in the Class A state tournament.
“That was definitely one of the highlights, to make it to state,” Mellen said. “I don’t know if anybody really expected us to do that. To have the community rally behind 10 girls from some little school, that was really nice. Just being on that team was so fun.”
As a senior, Mellen averaged
19.2 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, 2.4 steals and 2.3 assists. Newman was 19-4 when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in the second-to-last game of the regular season against St. Bede.
For her career, Mellen averaged 18.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, 2.5 steals and 2.3 assists. She received a host of all-state honors, and was the Sauk Valley Newspapers and Three Rivers Conference player of the year as a sophomore, junior and senior.
Mellen went on to play at Marquette, but was again plagued by injuries. She tore the ACL in her left knee as a redshirt sophomore and again as a fifth-year senior. She helped the Golden Eagles to a WNIT championship as a redshirt freshman and a WNIT berth as a redshirt junior.
Mellen graduated from Marquette with a bachelor’s degree in 2010 and a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology in 2012. She currently resides in Denver and is a speech pathologist.
Johnson, a 2004 Rock Falls graduate, was a 4-year starter for the Rockets and helped the team to a 102-23 record and four regional titles in that span. He is the all-time leading scorer in school history with 2,007 points, and cherished his time with one of the top small-school programs in the state.
“There was nothing like it,” Johnson said. “I had watched my brother [Jed] go to state in 1999, and I couldn’t wait to play for Rock Falls. Basketball really meant something to people in town during that time, and we loved it.”
About the only bummer was Johnson couldn’t get any of his Rock Falls teams to state. He was part of three sectional title-winning teams, but none of those won a supersectional to get to Peoria.
As a senior, Johnson tossed in 24 points per game, but the season ended with a 57-56 loss to Winnebago in DeKalb.
“We were up 10 points at halftime, and I remember some of our assistant coaches who used to be players talking about how this is the year we’re finally going to get back to state,” Johnson said. “It just didn’t happen for us in the second half. Winnebago had a great player in Devan Bawinkel, and we just didn’t get it done. I still think about that game.”
Johnson now resides in Oregon and closely follows the hoops exploits of his three sons: Noah, 12; Cooper, 10; and Drake, 9. Noah, a sixth grader, is the most advanced of the three. As a fifth grader, he played on an AAU team of seventh graders.
“He’s something else, way above where I was when I was 12 years old,” Johnson said. “I love watching my boys play basketball, and my goal is to have them all be better than I ever was.”
Damhoff recently completed a memorable run at Sauk Valley Community College. He coached the SVCC men’s basketball team to a 592-392 record over 31 seasons, and in 24 of those years, the Skyhawks had a winning record.
“This makes you think of all the people who helped you get there,” Damhoff said of the IBCA honor. “There’s been a lot of great players, great coaches – it’s been a combined effort.”
Highlights include 1989 and 1991 Arrowhead Conference championships, Region IV titles in 2003 and 2016, and being named the Region IV coach of the year in 2003 and 2016.
When asked to name a few standout moments, Damhoff singled out the Region IV-winning teams, along with a 28-4 squad led by standout guards Jim Preston of Newman and Lance Harris of Ohio in his third season.
“Those are seasons you just never forget,” Damhoff said.
Damhoff coached 44 All-Region IV players, 55 All-Arrowhead Conference players, and had 85 players continue their basketball careers at 4-year colleges and universities.
Damhoff was also the athletic director at Sauk Valley for 25 years, before retiring in 2017. He currently serves as an assistant coach for SVCC head coach AJ Sharp.
Along for the ride the whole way has been his wife, Jackie, who kept stats, the scorebook or whatever else was needed on a given night.
“In 31 years at Sauk, I can count on one hand the number of games she missed,” Damhoff said. “I couldn’t have asked for more support.”
Damhoff coached 1 year as an assistant at Rockford East (1984-85) and 1 year at Sauk Valley as an assistant under Randy Paisley (1985-86) before taking over as head coach at SVCC.
Bickett has been a fixture on the area basketball scene for more than three decades. He and Harris, both All-Staters, led Ohio High School, which had just 70 students at the time, to second place in the 1985-86 Class 1A state tournament.
Bickett scored 2,177 points for the Bulldogs, and was inducted into the IBCA Hall of Fame as a player in 1998.
After playing at Eureka College, Bickett began his coaching career at Buda Western High School in 1991. He guided the Rams to a 69-59 record in five seasons.
He then moved on to Bureau Valley for 15 seasons and accumulated a 287-150 record. The Storm placed third in the Class 1A state tournament three consecutive seasons (2000-02), a span in which the team had a sparkling 90-12 record.
For the past seven seasons, Bickett has been at Rock Falls. After some initial struggles, he’s got the Rockets firing on all cylinders, capped by a 31-3 record in 2018-19. Overall, Bickett is 117-89 at Rock Falls.
Bickett’s combined varsity coaching record in 473-298. His teams have won eight conference and 14 regional championships.
“It’s very gratifying,” Bickett said of the IBCA coaching honor. “There’s a lot of hard work and time involved, and I’m fortunate to have a family that allows me to coach. They’ve been a great support system. I’ve had tremendous coaching staffs at Buda [Western], Bureau Valley and at Rock Falls – it’s been a team effort.
“And of course you’ve got to have good players, and I’ve coached a lot of good ones along the way.”
Bickett is a driver’s education teacher at Bureau Valley.