Derek Skaggs entered the gym at Smith-Cotton High School on Tuesday with a different group of Tigers.
After two years as the assistant boys basketball coach at Smith-Cotton, Skaggs took over the head coaching job at Pilot Grove this season, leading those Tigers into the sectional at Smith-Cotton against Drexel and coming away with a 68-55 win.
“It’s fun,” he said following a recent game at Northwest. “It’s a lot higher paced. The speed of the game is faster.”
Before his two years at Smith-Cotton, he was the girls varsity coach at Tipton for six seasons.
“The girls are solid athletes too,” he said. “There’s just something different about the (boys) game, the speed is a little quicker. I like it. It’s been a lot of fun.”
He said after his stint as the head coach at Tipton, it was valuable to get the perspective of being an assistant under Kevin Schnicker and Ray Hughes.
“I figured out how to micro-manage a little more and get guys to help me,” Skaggs said. “My assistant coach (Jordan Williams) has done a good job with game situation stuff.”
It is a veteran team that welcomed Skaggs to Pilot Grove, led by senior guard Colton Glenn, junior forward Jake Leverton and sophomore guards Mason Schlotzhauer and Regan Meisenheimer.
“All four played minutes on last year’s district title team and we added a senior in Trenton Young who has been playing great basketball for us,” Skaggs said. “Scotty Blanks kind of has been behind the scenes but he’s starting to get some floor time coming off the bench. We sometimes can go eight deep and we know the five on the floor can give us their best effort.”
Coming off a season in which Pilot Grove went 22-6 and beat Otterville in the district championship game, this year’s Tigers won the Pilot Grove Tiger Classic in December and kept on winning, taking a 17-5 record into the Class 1, District 8 tournament and capturing the district title with wins over Calhoun, Northwest and Leeton.
The Tigers and their new head coach were able to hit the ground running.
“Once you get into a head coaching role, it all comes back to you,” he said. “It all derives off a passion for the game and that’s something that I’ve always had.”
In the sectional game, his Tigers trailed 17-12 after one quarter before opening the second on a 16-4 run, a Meisenheimer basket putting the Tigers in front with 4:25 left in the quarter.
Pilot Grove led 33-29 at the half, a lead they briefly gave up early in the third before rallying back with an 11-0 run.
The Tigers move on to the quarterfinal against Macks Creek at 2:45 p.m. Saturday in Clinton.