After coaching stints in California and most recently Cape Coral, Fla., Curt Berger has come home to what he calls “basketball country.”
A former head boys basketball coach at Red Bud High School, Berger returns to the Cahokia Conference this season as the new head coach at Lebanon High School.
Berger, 58, was a teacher at Red Bud for 10 years and coached the Musketeers from 1996-2004. He also was an assistant at Althoff for two years and coached at Collinsville Middle School.
But after his most recent stint in Cape Coral, Fla. where he was a boys assistant coach for two years and head girls coach for one season at Ida S. Baker High School, Berger is glad to be back in Illinois.
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“This is home. I’m originally from Olney and along with teaching and being the head boys coach at Red Bud. I had also had a couple of other opportunities at Althoff and Collinsville,” Berger said on Wednesday. “It feels really, really good to be back in basketball country.”
Berger takes over the coaching duties from Doug Schieppe who led the Greyhounds to a 9-22 record last season.
“I am extremely grateful to the Lebanon High School administration and to (athletic director) Chad Cruthis for this opportunity. I’m excited and looking forward to coaching this basketball program,” Berger said. “We had some open gyms this summer and I like what I saw.
“I think we have the talent to have some success and be competitive. A lot depends on well and how quickly we mesh both on and off the basketball court.”
The 2017-18 season will be the 36th as a basketball coach for Berger whose vast coaching background includes being the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Mobile, Ala. for five years. For Berger, the simple game he fell in love with and that has been such a big part of his life remains the same in many ways.
“I still love to coach and be around the kids. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Berger said. “The game has evolved over the years. For one thing, its much more physical than what it used to be. But its also still a simple game. You want to be able to play good defense and stop teams from scoring and on offense you want to get good shots and put the ball in the basket.
“The kids haven’t changed that much. They still want to work hard — especially in Illinois — to get the most out of their ability. That’s what makes this new opportunity so exciting for me.”
Berger takes over a Lebanon program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011-12 when it finished 18-12 and competes in one of the top small school conferences in the state — the Cahokia Conference.
Berger said that while he feels he has mellowed a bit as he has gotten older, he still has high expectations for his players and his program. That won’t ever change.
“I understand that with Salem joining the conference that Red Bud will be moved over to the Kaskaskia Division this season. But yes, the Cahokia Conference is an excellent basketball league with schools with great basketball traditions,” Berger said.
“As a basketball coach I think I’ve evolved a little bit. I’m still pretty demanding on certain things and how I think things should be done. But I’ve softened up a little bit as well. I think that’s a good thing.”
As for the Greyhounds basketball program, Berger thinks it can be successful.
“We’ll play a lot of match-up zone defenses because I think we can be successful doing that,” Berger said. “On offense we’re going to run multiple sets and try and get good, high percentage shots. We’ll also try and create offense off our defense because in watching these kids in open gyms, I think we’ll be able to do that.”
“We have three starters coming back from last year and others who played off the bench. We’ve got decent size and good athleticism at the guard spots which is why I think we’ll be able to press and trap a little bit.”