Countless ingredients go into putting together a successful basketball season, let alone a successful program.
Monticello basketball coach Kevin Roy, whose teams have won regional titles in the last 5-out-of-7 seasons and a trip to state, contributes one of those special ingredients to quality coaching throughout the program, including the junior high coach.
“We’ve got good coaches that really volunteer down at the four and fifth and sixth grade travel teams, Roy said. “And Mike Stokowski had been at the junior high level about as long as I’ve been at Monticello.”
Another ingredient to that success included having former Monticello players return to coach for the Sages.
“I’ve been fortunate to have former players come and be assistance coaches for me,” Roy said. “They just carry so much more pride and enthusiasm and excitement for the program after they have experienced this. I have been blessed to have great guys around me at each lever, freshman and jayvee and down to middle school.”
Those players include Luke Marry, Nick Stokowski, Nick Stokowski and Kevin Feeney.
Former Sage basketball player Luke Marry has been coaching the Monticello freshman team since 2014.
The 2007 graduate was one of the first players in Roy’s coaching system.
In Roy’s first year as head coach (2006-07 season), the Sages won a sectional title and finished with an overall record of 28-5, and Marry was a big part of that run.
To get the freshman coaching position, Marry moved back to the area and was living with Kevin Feeney, who also was on the 2006-07 team, when they met up with their former head coach for dinner and chatted about basketball.
“Kevin had already started helping in the summer,” Marry said. “Then Roy asked me if I wanted to come along and coach freshman because that worked out with my schedule because I could do it later in the evening.”
After coaching the freshman team for six years, Marry took a year off. Now, he is back for this season to coach the Sages’ jayvee squad.
“It’s the opportunity to be with Roy again and to be with the guys again,” said Marry, who is a Project Manager and Pella Windows & Doors of Champaign. “The year off was nice, and I was traveling some for work and had some different opportunities. But then once (Andrew) Turner took the job at St. Thomas Moore, Roy and I talked a couple of times and he asked if it would work out with my schedule, and part of it being how weird everything is right now with Covid situation, it works out pretty well.”
Marry believes having former players coaching in the program adds continuity that other programs may no be able to achieve.
“Really, Monticello is just a nice place to coach,” Marry said. “They’re talented kids, and they are also well behaved. They’ve got really good parents, so you don’t have to deal with attitude as much. Talking to other coaches around the area, that is not always the case.
It’s a lot of stress, but a lot less stressful than a lot of other places if you look around the Champaign area.”
Of course, Marry and Roy’s relationship has evolved over the years and now is closer to friends than a player and understudy.
“When you’re a player, you can’t really be the coach’s friend,” he said. “That’s not a great way to try (to do it), but now, we’ll go out for dinner. And we got group threads, talking about the last games and other basketball. So that part grew more.”
One of aspects Marry did know as a player about Roy was Roy’s dry sense of humor.
“When he’s coaching, you don’t see it quite as much,” Marry said, “but once you become friends with him, and you’re on the staff with him as a coach, you get to see that side of him a lot.”
Marry remembers Roy as a hands-off coach because the 2006-07 team was talented and disciplined.
“He coached us but he let off a lot with what we were doing as long as we were paying attention and locked in,” Marry said. “We didn’t call that many plays and didn’t make that many adjustments just because we saw the game, and we had really high IQ players on the team.”
Marry was a pass-first point guard, which Roy really liked. Even now, Roy and the coaches always use the phrase, “You’re a point guard, not a points guard.”
His senior-year team had good shooters and a post who shot it well, so Marry’s best games were when he contributed 10 to 12 assists and did not worry about getting 20 points.
“We basically ran a motion offense, and we played man-to-man defense,” he said. “That’s what we were taught when we were young, and we were good enough that we didn’t have to adjust. We had some really good shooters and playmakers, and I think Roy just kind of let us play. That was really fun, and we won a lot of game so that helped.”
Not much has changed as far as playing man-to-man defense and running a motion offense as the team’s calling card.
“We’re not looking to get some kid 30 points a game,” Marry said. “It’s just moving the ball and seeing who’s open.”
One of his best memories as a coach was winning the sectional title for a trip to state. One of his favorite memories as a player was beating Maroa on senior night when Maroa was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in state.
“That whole season was such a blast,” he said. “We had such a fun group, and the year before I think we had about a .500 team (14-14). And we really exploded that next year. That year, it just came together and clicked.”
Last year, the seventh grade boys’ basketball position was available, and 2014 Monticello graduate Nick Stokowski thought it would be a good opportunity for him to get back involved with basketball.
Nick, who works for Monticello High School in the Special Education Department, played for Roy during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
While playing in high school, Nick understands the difference between good and bad seasons.
Nick was a part of Roy’s (2012-13) team that went 23-6 and won a regional title.
He was also part of the 2013-14 team that posted Roy’s worst career season record (13-14) at Monticello.
As seventh grade coach, Nick enjoys focusing on fundamentals for players who are developing into young men.
“The middle school transition from sixth-to-seventh and seventh-to-eighth grade, is a very unique time as far as growth physically and development,” he said. “To be apart of the beginning of the development of school basketball is a cool experience for me.”
Nick describes himself as a high school player who tried to get the most out of his teammates by bringing a competitive edge everyday, as well as somebody who took pride in getting rebounds and not turning the ball over.
“I’ve always enjoyed sports and coaching but it seems even more meaningful when you get to help a program you were once in,” he said. “I always took great pride in being a Monticello Sage and being part of the basketball program. I still have this same pride and try to share that pride with the players we coach and hope that it rubs off on them for the years to come.”
Nick believes one important part of Roy’s success is Roy’s ability to communicate.
“I always felt we could talk to coach Roy as players the same way I talk to him now as a coach,” he said. “Which I think is very important as coach and is part of coach Roy’s success. He allows you to be comfortable as a player.”
Nick’s most exciting memory as a player was in the 2012-2013 when the Sages won the regional championship. His best memory as a coach was last year when the eight-grade team made its run into the state tournament.
“Watching a team turn it up a notch and beat teams simply by working harder than all of them was awesome to watch as a coach,” he said.
Luke Stokowski, a 2018 Monticello graduate, has not yet graduated from Eastern Illinois University, where he is pursuing a career in Physical Education and Health, but has already “returned” to help Mike and Nick with the middle school players.
Mike, his father, asked Luke if he would join the middle school coaches as a volunteer in 2018-19 season, and Luke jumped at the opportunity.
“I came back to coach because it gives me the opportunity to teach the kids a sport that I love and make them better at it,” he said. “It is a very rewarding job . . . I believe that coming back to the program and teaching some drills I was taught in high school will only make the kids better and ready for what is to come next.”
During Luke’s junior and senior year in high school, the Sages’ basketball team was 48-9 and made a trip to the Final Four.
“In high school I was the type of player that would work hard on defense and take a bunch of charges to get the crowd into the game,” he said. “I was also a strong rebounder. On offense, I would say I was very unselfish and just tried to do the best for the team to come out with a win.”
Luke said he has always had a good relationship with Roy but joked the only difference now is that Roy can’t put him on the line and run him.
Both of Luke’s most excitement memory as a coach and a player include playoff runs to the state tournament.
“The most exciting memory of me playing would be beating Quincy Notre Dame in the super sectional my junior year in high school,” he said. “It is the most amazing memory.”
Like his brother Luke, his favorite coaching memory is of the eighth grade team making it to state last year.
“The best memory was beating Lincoln Junior High in the first round and setting us up for one of the top four teams in the state,” he said. “The boys won that game with hard work. It was fun to watch them.”
The middle school is scheduled to kick off its season hosting the Sages Basketball Tournament Nov. 5.
The high school school varsity team is scheduled to host Pleasant Plains Nov. 24.