By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
Andy Douglas and Kevin Meyer share similar backgrounds.
Both played on high school basketball teams that reached the super-sectional round of the state tournament series. Meyer helped Quincy Notre Dame get there in Class A in 1989, and Douglas helped Quincy High School get there in Class AA in 2000. Both returned to their alma maters to be the head coach, with Douglas in his third season at QHS and Meyer in his second at QND.
Along the way they forged a friendship beyond the court. Their respect for each other and each other’s programs is genuine. It’s because they think and act with the same intentions — doing what’s best for the student-athletes.
They sat down before Saturday night’s crosstown showdown to discuss their approach to coaching, their friendship and what this game means.
How important is this game to basketball in Quincy?
Douglas: It’s big time. We’re a few blocks away from each other, and both schools compete year in and year out. The tradition at both schools is heavy. For the basketball community here, it’s something that is positive. It’s great for our players. I know players who for years wanted to be in this game and for whatever reason couldn’t be a part of it. Now that it’s happening again, it’s something special.
Meyer: I’ll echo that. It’s about the kids. They play at Johnson Park. They go out to QU, wherever they are playing games. They play with each other. They play against each other. This is a great chance for people to watch them on a bunch of different outlets and have some fun with it. At least that’s the way we are approaching it, to have some fun with it. It’s not to go out and trash each other or anything like that, because our schools have good relationships. It’s a fun environment. I enjoyed it last year, and we got our butts kicked. The support has to come from the community that they want to see it and be a part of it. It’s enjoyable. It’s a fun part of things. We keep coming back to that word, but it’s fun.
Douglas: The players want to play in big-time atmospheres and exciting atmospheres. You go to Springfield and Oswego and places like that where basketball is just not that big of a thing. People don’t show up in big numbers to watch it. Here, whether it’s their gym or our gym, they consistently do. With this game, it gives them a great opportunity. I remember coming out for the Western Big Six Conference championship game against Rock Island and going “Holy crap.” People were standing on the stairs. That was big time. That was a wow moment for all of us. This game can be like that. This game is going to have a better atmosphere than the state tournament has. That’s saying something. When you talk about all the fans who have been around each program for a while and some who have been around both programs for a while and the product that’s going to be on the floor, this has the potential to be one of the better experiences basketball-wise either group could have.
Are you jealous you didn’t get to play in a game like this?
Meyer: There’s some jealousy with it. It would have been fun. We each have people from the other team we know. In my case, (Eric) Stratman and (Dan) Sparrow talked about that last year, saying, “Oh, that wouldn’t have been a challenge,” and stuff like that. We sit here and talk about how (QND coach Bob) Kies and (QHS coach Jerry) Leggett would have handled it. How would Scott (Douglas) and Loren (Wallace) handled it? You didn’t get to experience that. From a player standpoint, how great would it have been to go out and play in Blue Devil Gym? We’ve been doing that since we were little kids. I remember in 1981 lining up at Kelly’s for the parade and stuff. At that point, I still felt like I wanted to be a Raider, but you’re going, “This is cool. This is Quincy basketball.” Maybe you got to play a JV game in there, and my senior year we played the regional there. That part of it is incredible. I am jealous of that.
Douglas: As a player, you want to be a part of it. It never was an option, so we never thought about it. It came up in the summertime when we played at Johnson Park and had pickup games, but we knew it wasn’t going happen during the season. Now that it is, I think it’s pretty cool. Selfishly, as a player, you want to be a part of it because now you have something to back up all the trash talk with Brian McNeil when he’s saying, “Oh, we were better than you guys.” As a competitor, you want to be a part of these big games.
Meyer: You always talk about wanting to play meaningful games. That’s a great way to describe this game. It doesn’t have any postseason repercussions. It isn’t our last game of the year, but boy, it’s a great one for all of us to learn from. Also, there’s the bragging rights part of it. That motivates the kids a little bit. There’s also the atmosphere. Playing in front of a big crowd, are you going to go out there and pee your pants? Or are you going to say this is a man’s game? I thought last year we had both moments. We got a lot out of it last year, and it really was meaningful.
What do your teams gain from this game?
Meyer: It’s a bigger game than what we play in our Christmas tournaments. It has a championship game feel because of the crowd, because of the TV aspect, because of what’s on the line. Quincy is on the line. That’s kind of a cool statement and kind of a cool idea. One of the fun things for us is there is mutual respect. That’s earned. It’s not given. Last year’s game was a good one. I talked about seeing Parker (Bland) and Jacob (Mayfield) go at it. At the end of the night when they shake hands, there’s respect. It’s both ways. That’s kind of a cool thing.
Douglas: Players get out of it how to play through pressure situations, how to play in a huge electric atmosphere, which they are going to see in postseason play and see in championship games of Christmas tournaments. They are going to see that in the second half of the season in all of our Western Big Six games. Every game that we have I try to be as consistent as possible and treat them all exactly the same. Every game, we go in with the mindset we need to improve and take steps in the right direction. This is no different than any of those other games.
The teams have a combined 13-1 record this year. Is there more anticipation for the game this year?
Douglas: I could care less what our record is. Honest to God, I told someone the other day the wrong record. I don’t care what we are, where we are record-wise. I care more about getting teams prepared to succeed and prepared to take steps in the right direction. That’s been my goal since I’ve been in the program. You get better or worse but you never stay the same. That’s our stamp on the program. We treat it that way in practice and in games. As far as records go, that’s more of a thing for fans. From my standpoint, we need to improve, and we’re going up against a tough QND team. We know it’s going to be a close game where they give everything and our guys give everything.
Meyer: It’s what you’re getting out of this game, not going into it undefeated and stuff like that. It’s the challenge part of it we look at. When it comes to our record, it matters at the end of the season I guess. That’s more of a fan side of it. It creates the hype. Fans are saying, “Oh, both teams are good.” That’s what we’re expecting and what we want. From a coaching standpoint, we’re trying to be better than we were last year, better than we were yesterday. On Sunday, the sun’s going to come up. Quincy is not burning to the ground. After that, they’ll get ready to play on Wednesday night and we’ll get ready for the State Farm Holiday Classic. Win or lose, after Saturday night, I’ll be a Blue Devil fan again and hopefully he’s a Raider fan. Saturday night, that’s probably not the case.
How much do you pay attention to each other’s teams?
Meyer: I follow him a lot. For one, we’ve done a lot of things together recently coaching wise. That’s what has been fun for me, being the coach for Notre Dame, is getting to know Andy really well and doing a lot of things to interact and see how he runs his program. What can I steal from him? What can we do to kind of emulate them? At the same time, I look at his kids and I know he has good kids. That means a lot because I’m hoping people say the same thing about us. It’s not always the case. We all have knuckleheads. But I follow them more than I ever have, partly because I’ve gotten to know him as a person and I know what he’s trying to do inside that locker room.
Douglas: I have a lot of respect for him. The situation that he took over is not something a lot of coaches would be jumping up and down about. He looked at it as a challenge. I’ve always said I respect how he handled it and how he’s running his program. They are going to have a lot of success down the line because of the type of person that he is and the coach that he is. I get the chance to watch his teams more on game film, and I get to watch how his kids play, the movement that they have. Good coaches are thieves. They steal ideas from everybody. We can say as high school coaches that we’re stealing from each other, and we’re stealing from the college coaches that we have in town as well. I have a lot of respect for Coach Meyer, and I have a lot of respect for his kids. We are very fortunate to be able to coach the kids that we get to coach going through our programs. That are not a lot of programs out there that can say that and be consistent about it.
Should this game continued to be played?
Douglas: I think so. People have talked about not doing it every single year and breaking it up into two-year increments, but I think we should play every year. It’s good for both programs. It’s good for the community. It gets people involved. Hopefully it gets people off their coaches and into the stands to watch at both places. The kids deserve it. They deserve to be a part of it. They deserve for people to come out and support them and be there in the stands to watch. When they look up in the stands and see a place that’s packed with support from both sides, it’s something they are going to remember the rest of their lives.
Meyer: The biggest thing you said is, “This is for the kids.” We could play in an empty gym and have refs — good refs — and have fun with it. It’s for the kids. It’s for our players. Why do we need to travel six hours when we can travel six minutes and play a high quality team? It just makes sense. I will always say that. It makes sense.