From court to sidelines
High school, collegiate star athlete takes head coaching job
DOWNERS GROVE—Several weeks ago, Lyndsie Long originally set out to apply for an open position in the Downers Grove South High School physical education (PE) department.
Not only did the former Kaneland High School star and Elmhurst College Division III All-American interview for, and land, that opening, she fulfilled another career goal shortly thereafter: becoming a varsity head coach.
Long, the all-time leading scorer in Elmhurst College women’s basketball and No. 2 all-time at Kaneland, was recently named head coach of the Mustangs. The Sugar Grove resident succeeds longtime coach Ellen O’Brien, who stepped down to take over as the school’s assistant athletic director.
“I’m so thankful for everything that’s fallen into place for me,” said Long, who was getting to know the DGS girls program and its players—from incoming freshmen to varsity—at a camp held on campus last week. “This was like my dream come true.”
Randy Konstans, the Downers South athletic director, contacted Long a week after she joined the PE staff, and asked her if she was interested in interviewing for the head coaching position. Long responded enthusiastically.
“Of course,” she said.
Long interviewed with Konstans and O’Brien, who, in addition to being the girls coach at DGS, was inducted into the Downers South athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 as a three-sport athlete (basketball, volleyball and softball).
Long badly wanted the job, but prepared herself if she didn’t get it.
“What I kept telling myself was to just be patient, and if it didn’t work out, there’s a plan for me in the making,” she said. “Just getting the PE job was my main concern, and this on top, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Konstans said Long being only three years removed from Elmhurst College was not a factor in his decision-making. He said Long got glowing reviews from coworkers at York High School in Elmhurst, where she was a special education assistant and coached the York girls sophomores last season to a 25-2 record.
“I think for me, more than anything else, when you sit and talk to a person, you do get a feel,” Konstans said. “That hour-long chat has to be coupled with the recommendations from those co-workers she’s had in the past. I must have talked to a half-dozen people at York who just say nothing but great things about her and her work ethic, her knowledge of the game, her ability to work with people.”
Prior to coaching at York, Long spent a year as an assistant at St. Joseph College in Rensselaer, Ind., and also coached for a year at Concordia University.
“You’re never ready,” Konstans said. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned over the years: Where you think you’re not ready, or you’re (not) experienced enough and ‘I’m ready for my own program.’ You’re just never ready to be a head coach, so you’ve just got to take that plunge. It’s desire more than anything else, and I think she has great desire and great enthusiasm and has a great basketball resume.”
As a junior at Kaneland during the 2004-05 season, Long helped the Knights advance to a Class AA sectional championship game against Naperville Central. That took place three years before the IHSA went to a four-class system for basketball and one year after Naperville Central all-American and U.S. Olympian Candace Parker—the 2008 WNBA Rookie of the Year and league MVP—had graduated.
Even minus Parker, Naperville Central had a formidable team, and the Redhawks ended up defeating the Knights 61-48, despite Kaneland mounting a double-digit lead at one point.
“That was probably the best experience, playing in that type of atmosphere with so many people there,” Long said. “Those (years at Kaneland) were the funnest four years for me. I think I was playing with some of my best friends that I’m still really close to. We knew how to play with each other, and we knew our strengths and weaknesses. It was just fun. Back then, we were going up against some huge schools in the regionals. I think we held our own and we proved to people that we’re from a small school, but we can hang with the best.”
Long went from being a four-year starter at Kaneland to being a four-year starter at Elmhurst College. She was a four-time first-team all-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin selection, and was named to two Division III All-American squads her senior year.
Long, who led the CCIW in scoring as a senior (26.1-point average), holds numerous scoring records at Elmhurst, including finishing as its all-time leading scorer (1,866 points) and all-time leader in three-pointers (170). She also holds records for most points in a game (45), most three-pointers in a game (eight), most three-pointers in a season (74), the best free-throw percentage for a season (89.3), the best three-point field goal percentage for a career (38.8) and the top career free throw percentage mark (84.2).
At Downers South, Long plans to take her new squad in a different direction offensively for the 2013-14 season.
“The offense is totally different from what they’ve been used to,” she said. “Just the coaching style is different in respect to I’m totally new. There will be a lot of screening, learning to read the defense and getting open that way and not always having a set that the other team can scout.”
But defense will be emphasized even more.
“I’m really defense oriented,” Long said. “Defense is going to win games, so if we’re all communicating and we’re helping each other out, that’s going to put us in a good position to get some stops.”
Long concluded her first week at camp with 40 girls in the gym last week. She likes what she sees in the way of talent at every level.
“This week has been great,” she said. “We have varsity players that have been in the program three or four years now so I’m just making it known to them that I’m here to mentor them and to be a good basketball program and just coaching them the best I can.
“The girls have responded well to the changes, and I’ve only heard positive feedback, so it’s a step in the right direction. There are a few freshmen that have stood out a lot to all the coaches. They’re already playing with the sophomores right now. It’s really, really good to see. The sophomore level has some good talent; we just need to learn to play together more and learn to get stronger.”
Long said she’ll keep building on what O’Brien has established once she gets situated in her new role.
“Instead of 40 girls being in the gym, I want 90 girls,” she said. “I think just getting a good year under our belts and people seeing that and hopefully we can get some more contributors.
“Ellen’s been here 20 years, so it’s a totally different change for everybody, just trying to get all of the coaching staff on board and believing in what we’re trying to do.
“We want to get all of the girls happy and excited to be in the program every day. And that’s how you end up winning games. You want to be there, you’re having fun, you’re playing together and you’re enjoying it.”