BENTON — The first few days of Randy DeShone's return to coaching didn't go as he'd liked.
Between the heavy snow and a day without electricity, DeShone's Fairfield boys basketball team was left scrambling to even get started.
But despite the struggles, DeShone couldn't be happier.
"I'm constantly coming home to my wife and telling her what great kids I'm coaching and what a great place Fairfield is,'' DeShone admitted. "I've always known and heard it, but until you're actually inside and meeting people, you never realize how special it is.''
DeShone – still the only coach in Elkhart County history to win a boys state title (Jimtown 2006) – has been out of coaching for three years after leaving Elkhart Central. This will be his 23rd year as a head coach and he has a career record of 262-226. He replaced Troy Beachy, who left after a 15-9 mark a year ago.
Fairfield's top returnee is 6-foot senior Nolin Sharick, who averaged 12.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists a year ago.
"Nolin is a very talented kid and a quiet leader and role model for this team,'' DeShone said. "When I came in, people would tell me what a great kid he is and then run off two or three more superlatives about him before even talking about his basketball talent. But basketball is very important to him, he plays really hard and he's very well respected by the other kids.''
The only other player back with much experience Cade Gall, another 6-foot senior, who averaged 3.4 points-a-game for the Falcons last season.
"Just another great kid and he has some solid experience from last season,'' DeShone said. "He may not come out and score 20 in a game, but he's not only a good passer, but a very smart passer. He's also able to play a lot of positions, which helps too. I've always had a lot of guys that could do that and it's obviously very important to a team.''
Three other seniors – Bryce Willard, Riley Behles and Justin Bontrager – all played for the Falcons some last season, but all three averaged under a point-a-game. DeShone is counting on all three to contribute this season, although Bontrager has missed practice time with an illness.
"Willard is a football player and he's a little beat-up, but I like the toughness he brings,'' DeShone said. "He's strong in the middle and does a good job of guarding people, which is an important niche to have. Behles is a guy that, the more you see him, the more you like him. He has a lot of intangibles and he's also really quick and can guard defensively.''
If you know DeShone's coaching background, you know the players on the court will have to play defense to stay there. So far, DeShone has been happy with that aspect of his young team.
"From what I"m being told, our conference (Northeast Corner Conference) is as deep as it's ever been,'' DeShone said. "There is usually a couple teams battling at the top and one of them wins the title. But this year, there are a lot of talented teams with bigger kids than the conference has seen. So if we can't guard people, it's going to be an issue. Defense and rebounding is where it all starts.''
Holden Blosser, a transfer from Warsaw, and sophomore Owen Miller are also battling for playing time for the Falcons, with Miller a strong candidate to start.
"Blosser just loves basketball and he's been at all our practices through the summer and fall ... I love that type of kid,'' DeShone said. "I see Miller having a bright future as we move forward because he has all the intangibles. From what I've been told, he was just a shooter last year. But this year, he's been focused more on everything but shooting and he's worked really hard on his defense and rebounding.''
With such an inexperienced core, DeShone knows the Falcons will be a work in progress this season.
"We may not settle on a starting lineup until after Christmas,'' DeShone admitted. "We have to figure out the chemistry and blend the talent together. Right now, I could see six, seven or even eight different kids that I'd be comfortable starting.
"We have five seniors, so we're not young, but experience-wise, we are. Coach Beachy did a great job with some very athletic teams the last couple years, but we are different this year .. we're not those guys. We have to find an identity for this season. But the kids have really sold out to what we're teaching and are working extremely hard.''