Once battling colon cancer became a full-time job for Phil Homeratha, he stepped down from his work as athletic director and women’s basketball coach at Haskell Indian Nations University in February.
Winter turned to spring, which became summer, but Haskell still had no basketball coach.
Some seniors in Lois Stevens’ sneakers might have put basketball behind them and gotten on with their education. That wasn’t an option for her.
“Both my parents played here in the ’80s,” Stevens said. “My two older brothers played for Haskell. So did my two older sisters. I’ve known coach Homeratha for 15 years. He’s just like a grandpa to me.”
So Stevens, a 5-foot-10 center from Green Bay, Wis., and the three other seniors on the roster — Kayla Davis, Sharon Forte and Nataska Rouse — agreed to do their best to keep the team together until they found a coach.
“We were on our own all summer and for the first few weeks of school,” Stevens said. “We still had conditioning, and we would play pick-up games whenever we could find a court to play on.”
In the process, the seniors learned something about coaching.
“It’s not easy,” Stevens said.
Agreed Davis: “I just couldn’t wait for us to actually have a person in charge. It was really difficult.”
There is a reason player-coaches are rare.
“It’s hard being the one to tell everybody what to do, but somebody had to do it,” Stevens said. “The main thing I wanted to do was make sure everybody stayed here and looked forward to the future, not the present.”
The future of Haskell women’s basketball arrived on campus in mid-September. His name is Shane Flanagan, his pedigree Division I.
Flanagan, 37 and a native of Albuquerque, N.M., played point guard for Boise State, where he earned Big Sky all-tournament honors in 1996. He spent the last five seasons as assistant coach to his father, Don Flanagan, at the University of New Mexico. His father retired, and Shane was out of work.
He learned of the Haskell job from Nana Allison-Brewer, first-year volleyball coach at Haskell and a former player for Don Flanagan at New Mexico. Shane, his two brothers and their father lived within two miles of each other, so his preference was to stay in New Mexico. Shane’s wife, Kimberly, and their daughter, Gracie, loved their lives, too. The coach needed to coach.
“When Haskell came up, I’m Native American — my mother’s from the Taos Pueblo (tribe) — that was part of it for me, the Native American aspect, coming to a university like this, with that type of history,” Flanagan said.
The seeds of his desire to coach at Haskell were planted in stories by his father.
“He coached on a reservation in New Mexico,” Flanagan said. “He was there three or four years, and those are basically his fondest years. He tells stories of how he turned the program around and had caravans of people following him to the games, stuff like that.”
How did he do it?
“He made the kids accountable,” the son said of the father. “He really just cared about them and expected a lot out of them.”
His retired father has made two trips to Lawrence to see his son and his family and to join him in instructing the players at practice. During one trip, while having lunch downtown, Don Flanagan ran into a familiar face. He and Kansas assistant basketball coach Joe Dooley knew each other from when Dooley was on Fran Fraschilla’s staff at New Mexico. Dooley invited Flanagan to attend a KU practice, but Flanagan had a more pressing concern, helping his son at his practice.
Weakened by academic-ineligibility problems, Haskell is off to a 4-10 start, but is 4-0 at home in the Coffin Complex. Don’s help won’t stop there. He’s on the lookout for talent at Native American-dominant basketball powerhouse high schools in Arizona and New Mexico. The Haskell coach’s father compiled a 401-13 record at El Dorado High in New Mexico before becoming the winningest women’s basketball coach at UNM.
“I’ve got nothing to do, so I can help him with that,” Don of spotting prospects. “Being around in 32 years, I know a whole bunch of those coaches.”
From the sound of it, Shane was a typical coach’s son.
“His senior year, I took him to the hospital four or five times,” Don Flanagan said. “He was one of those kids who would dive on the floor and split his chin open, and I’d take him to the hospital. One time, he up-faked a guy and the guy came down and landed with his teeth on top of Shane’s head.”
Now it’s the younger Flanagan’s job to try to get his players to match the intensity he brought to the court. He doesn’t have any paid assistants helping him, just three student assistants. Also, he and Chad Kills Crow, second-year coach of the 6-6 men’s program, work closely together and swap ideas.
“I really like Chad,” Don Flanagan said. “They’re about the same age and they get along. Both those programs are going to get a lot better. They’ll get better.”