Hugill: Rookie coach in name only
Coronado playoff run follows 14 years of coaching basketball to youths on Westside

       For some coaches, the school where they wind up is often just an accident of geography. Not so for Dan Hugill, who has just coached the Coronado High basketball team deeper into the state playoffs than any CHS team since the Cougars played for the state championship in 1984.
       The first-year mentor has taught and coached on the Westside most of the past 14 years. Working with athletes chiefly at the middle school level, he has voluntarily set up “various camps and clinics” and helped create the Westside Basketball Club and the Southern Colorado Basketball League.
       In the process, he planted seeds for the Coronado team he's now commanding.
        At West Middle School, Hugill met Kyle Park, now a senior and a 6-foot-7 mainstay on his front line, while coaching (of all things) wrestling.
       “After wrestling, we'd roll the mats up, and I'd teach him how to shoot the basketball,” Hugill recalled. “I never dreamed I would wind up coaching him in basketball at Coronado.”
       Hugill also encountered 6-foot-4 junior Cody Blessing, another of his starters, at West in the late '90s.
        More recently, coaching at Holmes Middle, Hugill led a group of eighth-graders to the first city championship in the school's history. Three of the players from that team are now sophomore reserves for the Cougars.
        Finally, there's 6-foot-6 senior Kyle Howard, son of Coronado Athletic Director Dave Howard. The elder Howard and Hugill have been friends “14 or 15 years,” Hugill said. “I've known Kyle since he was 4. I never knew he would get this big.”
       After a year coaching the Coronado freshman basketball team in 2002-03, Hugill was asked to take over the varsity this season - his first-ever varsity head-coaching job. Given the tough task of following a season in which the team had reached the post- season playoffs (12-8 overall), Hugill bettered it with the school's first Metro League championship in 20 years. This gave his team a first-round playoff bye.
       The Cougars' 65-53 victory over Rocky Mountain High School in the second round of the playoffs Feb. 28 put them with the final 16 teams vying for the state title, and their 54-44 win March 3 over Cherry Creek advanced them to the quarterfinals against 5A top-ranked Denver East at the Denver Coliseum March 4.
       According to Colorado High School Activities Association records, Coronado has only reached the quarterfinals twice, and that was as a 3A school. In 1982, the Cougars lost in the quarters. In 1984, they prevailed all the way to the state championship game before falling to Sterling, 65-54.
       The “3A” classificiation meant Coronado's opposing schools were those with smaller enrollments. Now, as a 5A school, Coronado is playing the biggest schools in Colorado.
       In the Feb. 28 win before enthusiastic home fans in the Coronado gym, the Cougars used tight defense and offensive opportunism to gain an early edge (40-22 at the half) that Rocky Mountain could never overcome. Scoring in double figures for Coronado were Bryan Johnson (16), Park (15), John Shaw (14) and Howard (10).
        “We're pretty well-rounded,” Hugill commented afterward. “That's what scares a lot of teams. On any given night, anyone could be a scorer. In our first 19 games, we had seven different guys who were the top scorer.”
        Johnson, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, made it two nights in a row for himself, hitting 18 to lead the comeback win over Cherry Creek. The team had trailed 10-4 after the first quarter.
       Hugill said that in coaching he focuses not just on physical skills, but also on the social and emotional aspects of each of his players. If all three of those aspects are not in place, the team “chemistry” can suffer, he said.
        Hugill sought to inspire his players and increase team spirit recently by taking them to the new movie, “Miracle on Ice” (commemorating the 1980 upset USA hockey gold medal). Eying the potential match-up with Denver East, Hugill said he was stressing a “David vs. Goliath” theme with his team.
       He does not deny a strong drive for winning. “I am probably the biggest competitor and worst loser in the southern Colorado area,” Hugill said. “If I'm going to play, I've got to win. I study winning, I read about winners and what they do, and I pattern myself after a lot of them.”
       In his own case, as a kid, he had played basketball “my entire life; I lived at the YMCA.” Then, in his junior year, he made the brutal self-assessment that he was not good enough to make it to college as a basketball player. “So I turned to running,” he said. “I became the state champion at the mile. I needed to be good at something. It earned me a scholarship to Adams State.”
       Coaching does not feel like work to him. “I wish we had 150 games a season,” he said. In his spare time, he tries to work up new plays to gain an edge over his opponents.
       A new look, unveiled for the Rocky Mountain game, takes advantage of 6-foot senior guard John Shaw's ball-handling abilities by putting him high at the point, just inside the half-court line, while his teammates spread out to open up the key.
        “It puts teams into a panic mode,” Hugill said.
       And helps makes a winner out of yet another Hugill-coached Westside team.

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