Hales, then a senior at Indiana University, had come directly from the Hoosiers' football program and was a late addition to a basketball team that had been depleted by injuries. The lessons he learned then ring true today.
The former Elkhart Memorial all-stater, and now Westview's junior varsity coach, Hales hopes the Warriors can hit Hammond Noll with the right moves at the 2A North Judson Regional on Saturday, March 15.
"I didn't feel any pressure. Coach Knight yelled ... he was a screamer. He held you accountable," Hales said. "And after having played football with Coach (Bill) Mallory, I was fine with that. If he was yelling, it meant I was doing something wrong. I took everything in. I wasn't going to let this opportunity go by with all the knowledge I was getting."
The brief basketball stop at IU in 1994 became the first in a series of right-place, right-time, right-fit moments for Hales.
The next came later that year with his first coaching job — an assistant football post at Churubusco under Phil Jensen. Hales and Jensen connected at IU football camps, but Jensen left the next season for Warsaw.
Hales, still on staff at Busco, was hired as the school's basketball coach in 1996.
Right place, right time.
Four seasons at Churubusco were followed by nine years at West Noble. Wins came tough at each school as Hales compiled a 101-176 career record.
Hales left West Noble after the 2010-11 season, but was quickly snapped up by Rob Yoder and Westview, which saw its JV coach, Jon Jantzi, move down to the junior high level.
"I always thought Ross got a lot out of his kids no matter what the talent level was," Yoder said. "It was kind of a no-brainer for us to have him come in and help us with our post players. Our coaching staff is guard heavy in background so I approached him about becoming the JV coach for us.
"We were fortunate to get him. We got what we wanted. He's really good with the communication end of it, the organizing stuff. I'm not. It doesn't sound like much, but with all of our youth programs and teams, he started our Twitter account. ... Those are all bonuses."
On the court, Yoder says Hales has molded Chandler Aspy into a smooth and effective player around the basket. At 6-foot-3, Aspy finds himself pitted against bigger players inside, but Hales' savvy has made a difference.
"Our posts will work with Ross on situations," Yoder said. "He worked on them getting open more, the quickness of their moves, the shot fakes. He's helped Chandler as well as Judah (Zickafoose)."
"Chandler, he's a wonderful player and I like to think that I've helped with the things I was learning from Coach Knight," Hales said. "A lot of it is small things here and there which have allowed him to be a better player. He's using his body well, he's using feet in the post. All of that has developed."
On Saturday, Hales believes all of those elements have to be dialed in for Hammond Noll, a team, he said, which has quickness on the perimeter but not a true inside presence.
"When you look across the board, I truly feel we have an advantage there," Hales said. "With Judah and Chandler, we have to be strong, we have to finish and we have to knock down our free throws. Rebounding is the No.1 key.
"We have to win the post and at least stay even with them rebounding. If we do that, we'll be right in the mix."
Hales believes he's found the right mix for himself as well.
He doesn't aspire to be a head coach anytime in the near future and he's enjoying the Westview experience with his wife, Candace, an English teacher at the high school; his daughter, Gracie, a sophomore; son Elijah, a seventh-grader; and son Avery, a third-grader. Ross continues to teach, however, at West Noble Middle School.
"To be in the position to learn from Rob and to coach underneath him as been absolutely wonderful," Hales said. "From the outside looking in, playing Westview was always a game you'd circle on the schedule.
"You see all the fundamentals year-in, year-out, how kids could shoot, dribble and pass. They always played hard and did the little things ... blocking out, shooting free throws.
"There are things I miss about being a varsity head coach, and things not to miss," Hales said. "I'm very content, very happy where I'm at. If you want to truly get the pure coaching experience, the Westview program has it. It has the kids, the players and community which allows you to do that. I love it."
2A NORTH JUDSON REGIONAL
Saturday, March 15
Game 1 — Woodlan (18-6) vs. Winamac (14-8), 11 a.m. ET.
Game 2 — Hammond Noll (21-3) vs. Westview (20-4), follows.
Championship — 8:30 p.m. ET
A COACH'S PERSPECTIVE
Rob Yoder, Westview — "(Noll is) really a perimeter-oriented team. Their two best players (Larry Crisler and Tyreon Gates) are 6-3 (off) guards who love to pull up and shoot, and if you come at them, they will straight-line, hard-drive it. It’s not a team that scores a lot in the post. They’re comparable to us in size, though they do have one 6-5 guy who starts sometimes. They have very willing shooters and will probably shoot a lot of 3-point shots. If we can rebound, hold them to one shot per possession, that will be huge, but that’s not easy, because long shots can equal long rebounds. In general, we’ve gotta take care of the ball and get shots within our offense."
Westview: Jordyn Bontrager (5-11 sr.; 17.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.6 spg, 53 percent on 2s, 42-of-102 on 3s for 41 percent), Chandler Aspy (6-3 jr.; 15.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 51 percent on 2s), Jamar Weaver (5-11 sr.; 9.1 ppg, 40-of-92 on 3s for 43 percent), Judah Zickafoose (6-4 sr.; 9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 54 percent on 2s), Daron Miller (6-0 jr.; 3.7 ppg).
Hammond Noll: Larry Crisler (6-3 sr.; 16.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.7 spg), Tyreon Gates (6-3 sr.; 13.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.7 spg, 30-of-75 on 3s for 40 percent), Marquis Tarver (5-10 sr.; 12.9 ppg, 2.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 38-of-97 on 3s for 39 percent), Roman Penn (5-10 so.; 5.2 ppg), Jalen Hord (6-4 sr.; 4.5 ppg).
THINGS TO KNOW
Westview: The Warriors have won nine straight games and are coming off their sixth sectional title in the last nine years. ... Westview beat Noll 69-55 in a 2008 regional semifinal on its way to taking the most recent of its four regional crowns, and lost to Noll 51-41 in a 2011 regional final, each of those games at North Judson. ... Sagarin rating: 72.3.
Noll: The 2A No. 5-ranked Warriors, the lone AP Top 10 team in the field, have won 14 of their last 15 games and are coming off their sixth sectional title in the last 14 years. ... Crisler is an Indiana University baseball recruit. ... Coach Josh Belluomini is in his first season, having succeeded Drew Trost, who resigned after last season to take a coaching job in his native Salt Lake City. ... Noll followed the above-mentioned 2011 win over Westview, the most recent of its four regional titles, by capturing the 2A northern semistate, before being nipped 43-42 by Indianapolis Park Tudor in the state championship. ... Sagarin rating: 79.8.
Woodlan: The Warriors won their first sectional title in 17 years with their 71-67 victory Monday over Fort Wayne Canterbury in the South Adams final. Greg White scored 18 points, Kadin Gerig 17, Jaylin Bennett 13 and Jeffery Jones 12. … Woodlan, champion of the Allen County Athletic Conference for both regular season and tourney, has won 15 of its last 17 games, including an overtime loss. ... Woodlan has never won a regional. ... Sagarin rating: 65.0.
Winamac: The Warriors won their first sectional title in 12 years with their 69-50 victory over North Judson in the Rensselaer Central final. ... Parker Fox, a 5-11 junior guard, is averaging 12.0 points, 3.5 assists and 2.2 steals, while seven other players average between 4.3 and 8.2 points. ... Winamac went 7-0 in the Midwest Conference this season and has won 10 of its last 11 overall. ... The most recent of Winamac’s two regional crowns came in 1932. ... Sagarin rating: 60.2.
By Anthony Anderson