Coaching legend McFall takes over Mill Valley girls hoops program
New Jaguars coach won two state titles with Olathe South
“Nobody likes change” is how the old adage goes. And change when we least expect it usually meets with twice the hostility.
But there’s another old adage that says something along the lines of, “With change, comes opportunity.” And that’s just what’s happening in the Mill Valley High School girls basketball program.
After more than three decades of coaching highly successful Sunflower League boys basketball teams — including a 15-year run as head coach at Olathe South that included two state championships — John McFall was named in May as the new head coach of the girls program at Mill Valley.
For the first time in his coaching career, McFall will take over a girls program after spending most of his 39 years of sideline experience as a boys coach.
Though McFall has had experience coaching girls in track and field — including a state champion high jumper, he acknowledges that his approach to a girls hoops program will have to be measured.
“I think we’re both still in the learning process,” said McFall of he and his new players. “I have to get a feel for what I can get out of them in terms of athleticism. I have to get a feel for what is a reasonable expectation for them.”
McFall has been in learning mode since being named as the Jaguars’ new coach. Since that time he has met with Mill Valley’s six returning seniors, presided over a summer camp, and watched his team in summer league action. It was a busy summer for a coach who — last basketball season — hadn’t envisioned being the Jaguars’ skipper.
“I wasn’t looking to go anywhere,” said McFall in reviewing the last few months. “I was acting as an assistant coach for my son who was coaching at Shawnee Mission South. I loved it; it’s a great school. I wasn’t looking to go anywhere, but then my position was eliminated in cutbacks. I looked at the opportunities that were out there, and our athletic director at South had kids who went to school at Mill Valley and was a big Mill Valley fan. He encouraged me to put my application in there.”
McFall’s philosophy on how to approach the game will not change with a switch to girls basketball. Just as with his boys teams, the Mill Valley girls will have to master the basics first — a fact that they have been learning firsthand.
“I think that you have to defend,” McFall said. “The first two hours of camp we did not touch a basketball. What I’ve been successful with is being fundamentally sound. You’ve got to defend, rebound and get good shots.
“We’re not that big, so we’re going to have to work really hard on the boards. I have not installed an offense yet. At Olathe South we had an offense that we used each year, but we tweaked it each year for our personnel, and that’s may be what we do here.”
Among McFall’s returnees is All-Kaw Valley League player Emily Altman and McKenzie Conklin. McFall has been putting in off-campus hours trying to get to know even more of his team.
“I’ve got the scorebook and the videotapes from last year,” McFall stated. “I was watching the Piper game just the other night.”
McFall has no plans on scrimping on the effort that made him a highly successful boys basketball coach. For McFall, the word “success” isn’t measured in wins and losses, though. It’s a philosophy he strengthened through encounters with one of the game’s biggest names.
“Shawnee Mission North had been 1-19 the year before I got there,” McFall said of one of his earlier coaching stops. “The first year we went 4-16 and showed a lot of improvement. The second year we were 8-12.
“I was on an airplane and I saw coach Dean Smith ahead of me as we were getting off the plane. I had the unique opportunity to visit with him for an hour in his office a year previously. When I came up to him he said to me, ‘Hey coach, how did your team do this year?’ I told him our record and he stopped right there and said, ‘I didn’t ask what your record was, I asked how you did. Did you get the maximum amount of effort from your players?’ I told him that I did, and he said, ‘Then it was a successful year. Don’t get hung up on wins and losses; everyone else will worry about that — the fans, the parents, the athletic director, the boosters. You just worry about what you get out of your players.’”
McFall has transferred that philosophy to his own teams and will not even discuss wins and losses when talking about the potential of his teams. Rather, McFall will have his team focus on the one thing he believes controls most wins and losses — execution.
“I don’t talk about winning,” McFall said. “We’ve had a lot of success, but in most basketball games there’s not a lot of discrepancy in talent. Sure, some teams will have players who excel in certain years, but what it comes down to is doing more things right than the other team.”