Coaches Spotlight: Greg Haagsma

Valley Christians Head Coach, Greg Haagsma has certainly established himself as one of the top coaches in the west coast. Yet, little is known about Haags because the limelight is something he backs away from. Just ask him what makes his program at 2A powerhouse Valley Christian one of the most successful...

Valley Christians Head Coach, Greg Haagsma has certainly established himself as one of the top coaches in the west coast.  Yet, little is known about Haags because the limelight is something he back away from.  Just ask him what makes his program at 2A powerhouse Valley Christian one of the most successful in Arizona Prep basketball, and he'll tell you his players.  Ask him again and he mentions his staff.  Ask him again and he probably will change the subject. 


The Trojan style of play is one of the most exciting to watch at any level.  "94 feet for 32 minutes".  His players love to play for him.  They attack you at all angles.  They press you, shoot 3's, and play hard.  Haagsma is the mastermind behind the success and VC's State Championships.


We had a chance to sit down with him and find out what makes him tick, who his all-time best players have been, and what his take is on the private/public school issue here in Arizona.


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Cager Report: How long have you been the Head Coach at Valley Christian?


Haagsma: I have been at Valley Christian since 1991.  I was girls' varsity coach for 6 seasons and this is 10th season as boys' varsity coach.


CR:  Where did you start your coaching career and what was you path (jobs) before being named Head Coach at VC


Haagsma: Valley Christian was my first head coaching job.  I came here right out of college.  I did assist at a small public school in Northwest Iowa prior to graduating from college while I was student teaching there.  The head coach was a great coach from which I learned a lot.  He was especially good at scouting opponents.


CR: What is your greatest basketball memory as the Valley Christian Head Coach?


Haagsma: There are a lot of very good memories.  All three state championship teams were very special and we had some great moments through those years.  However, I think the one that probably comes to mind the most often is the accomplishments of the 2004-5 team that finished runner up that season.  We had graduated so many seniors from the previous state championship team – and that team was really expected to not challenge for anything.  Yet, through very determined players we were able to get back to the state championship game, only to lose by 4 points to a very good SCA team. 


CR:  Who are some of the best players you have coached?


Haagsma: Tim Kruge, Paul Hardiman, Brian Roberts, Lucas Falconer, Kyle Brown, Bryan Botma, Andrew Majesty, Nick Van Weelden, Ben Bergsma, Brett Urig, Keith Nichter, Mark Wilson, David Mehlhorn, and Matt Bergsma.


A few of our current players probably would make this list as well.


CR:  Can you name the top five?


Haagsma: I would imagine that this is hard for any coach.  All of the names above were great players in their own way. 


Tim Kruge – Center - class of 2003

Paul Hardiman – Point Guard - class of 2003

Brian Roberts – Shooting Guard – class of 2004

Kyle Brown – Point Guard – class of 2002

Nick Van Weelden – shooting guard – class 2006


CR: What were the key factors in accepting the job at VC?


Haagsma: I was looking for a teaching position that allowed me to teach the classes I enjoyed the most as well as being able to get into coaching as well.  I was not necessarily looking to get out of the midwest but Arizona certainly intrigued me when this position came open. 


CR: Have you looked at other coaching jobs over the last few years?


Haagsma: Out of curiosity and my competitive nature, I look at what is available at the collegiate level.  I love coaching and teaching at VC and I can't say that I have an interest in going to another high school.


CR: What are your goals at Valley for the coming season?


Haagsma: We graduated a lot of seniors from last season.  Therefore, initial goals are just to gain a sense of unity and cohesion with this new group of players.  I think we have a shot to win the metro region and compete for a 2A state title.  However, there are a few other schools which have those goals as well. 


CR: What players at VC should we look for in the coming season?


Haagsma: Nate Van Weelden is one of the best point guards in 2A and probably in the state.  He has great physical attributes for a point guard and his will to succeed is tremendous.


Shane Johannsen is a very good post player at 6'7..  His offensive skills get better each day and he is an excellent defender.  His wing span (6'9 to 6'10) makes him a legitimate 5 man in a lot of programs.


There are probably 5 – 7 other players who will get significant court time as well. 


CR: What are your thoughts on the Public versus Private school battle?


Haagsma: Personally, I think it is more of a metropolitan vs. rural argument than a public vs. private issue.  Are there advantages for living in a metropolitan area.  Yes.  Many metropolitan kids have opportunities that are not available to kids in rural communities.  These opportunities allow them more individualized training and accountability for that training. 


However, with growing up in a rural community in Iowa, I think that sense of community and growing up with the same kids you are playing with at the high school level is an advantage of the rural communities as well.  I know that small town Iowa schools would pack the gym with 2000 to 3000 people just to watch high school basketball for every game.  Growing up, I couldn't wait to be that player in front of a crowd like that.  That doesn't happen very often in a metropolitan school as we compete with so many things going on every night.


CR:  Should all private schools in Arizona be in one league?


Haagsma: I think it is hard to do that in a state like Arizona where there are not that many private schools.  Most states that have private school leagues have more schools in those leagues than we do in 1A, 2A or 3A with a combination of both.  So in my opinion, I would say "No."


CR:  Name the top five coaches in Arizona you hate to prepare for during the season?


Haagsma: Obviously, I have great respect for many of our 4A and 5A coaches who compete day in and day out versus better competition than what 2A does.  I could name many of them, but I don't compete against them regularly.  Of the coaches that I have competed against a lot, my top 5 would be:


Kenny Smith - Thatcher

Hosea Graham - Seton

Doug Meyer - Arizona Lutheran

Bob Fredericks -  Scottsdale Christian

Dave Glasgow – Buena High School


CR:  Who is the most difficult?


Haagsma: Probably Coach Glasgow of Buena and Coach Smith of Thatcher


CR:  Why?


Haagsma: Because of how they get their players to force their game tempo on you. 


Coach Glasgow, while at Coolidge and now at Buena, really gets his kids to play hard and fast.  It is so easy to get caught up in playing so fast that players start making decisions that are not productive for their team.  Coach Smith's teams in Thatcher also force tempo but in a different way.  He gets his teams to be very patient and they are excellent at executing their half court sets.  They screen exceptionally well and his posts flash better than any I have ever coached against.


CR: Who are some of your opponents that people need to watch out for?


Haagsma: Northwest Christian School – They have the biggest team in 2A this season and they are deep as well.   They are still extremely young but their size and depth will make them tough to beat.


Scottsdale Christian – They are always a good team.  Coach Fredericks is amazing at teaching fundamentals and they seem to always have kids who can really shoot it. 


I also know Precision is going to be tough this year as well.  I just haven't seen them play yet.


CR:  In your opinion, who are the top players in 2A that people might not have heard about?

Haagsma: Tom Lemke – Northwest Christian – 6'7 sophomore post who will become a big name as he gets older

Matt Holtferich – Northwest Christian - 6'5 sophomore – very similar to Lemke.  Matt has a twin brother Paul Holtferich who is also on that team. 


Scottsdale Christian has a number of good underclassmen but I think that Bo Barnes has the ability to become one of the better guards they have had. 


CR: Name one coach you respect and why?


Haagsma: My high school coach – Jerry Nikkel.  He was tremendous in teaching fundamentals.  He also was a great motivator and really taught me a lot of which I use in my coaching today. 

CR: Who is the best player you ever coached against? Why?


Kevin Coble – he was so gifted as a shooter, ball handler, and had tremendous court savvy to go along with tremendous size at 6'8.  Last season, I also saw him develop very good leadership skills with such a young team at SCA. 


We have been able to play against some of the other Arizona great players in the summer leagues which is a lot of fun as well.  We have been able to play against Channing Frye, Harper Kamp, Jordan Legge, Nick DeWitz, Lawrence Westbrook, Ty Morrison, and others. 

CR: Name one opponent who you really respect and why?


Haagsma: Arizona Lutheran Academy – it is such a small school.  Most of their kids play all of the sports, yet they seem to be competitive in everything.  The past few years they have been very good at the 2A level, especially at football and basketball.  Coach Doug Meyer is the head coach in both of those sports.  I have a lot of respect for him with the time that coaching two sports must take. 

CR: How do you think your players would describe you as a coach?


Haagsma: Things I hope they would say would include: being a good motivator, someone who is willing to listen to them, someone who demands effort each day, someone who is consistent and someone who can laugh with them.  I am sure they would also say that I am someone who is very competitive and that I remember things very well.

CR: What are your strengths and weaknesses as a coach?


Haagsma: As a coach, I know that one of my bigger weaknesses is my ability to talk one on one with players.  I have always struggled with that.  I am much better in talking to the group as a whole.  This is something I have worked on very hard over the years because it is something that every good coach has to do.  I also know that I am a better offensive coach than defensive coach.   Although, we have had some very good rebounding teams, I don't think it was because I taught them very well.  I have always struggled in teaching rebounding. 


As far as strengths go, I am a very good game planner and strategist.  I love to watch film and prepare for an upcoming opponent.  I also think one of my strengths is to create and teach special offensive sets which take advantage of our teams individual strengths.


CR: Who is your favorite athlete and why?


Haagsma: My favorite athlete is Derek Jeter.  He is an above average ball player but he becomes a great ball player at big times.  He seems to thrive in the clutch when the Yankees are playing big games.  I also love how he is such a poised athlete in a city where they tend to tear you up easily. 

CR: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?


Haagsma: I have received a lot of advice in my years.  All of which has really helped me to develop as a person and a coach.  I think that one of the best pieces of basketball coaching advice I ever heard was from Bob Williams, the head coach at UCSB.


His comment was how "the fast break is made before a team reaches their opponents free throw line.  It is in the first 25% of the floor – not the last 75% of the floor.  You can put your fastest player and your slowest player on the line and having them run full court and the difference will be at most about a second.  However,  the player who thinks the fast break the fastest will beat the a player who doesn't transition as fast by as much as five seconds.


 At VCHS, we have really taken that seriously, we try to condition our players to be in our fast break before our opponents transition into it.  If we think this way we will be successful in our fast break.

CR: Tell us what can we expect from your team this season?


Haagsma: I think you can expect VC to be a team that plays hard every game.  

Things we will try to do every game include: 

-         excellent defense in the halfcourt, low defensive FG%

-         offensively up tempo, create lots of offensive possessions


CR:  Here is a tricky question, are the parents of your players more difficult to deal with because of the private school factor?


Haagsma: I know that has been the case at many private and affluent schools.  However, I have not had very many run-ins with parents.  I work very hard to make sure that my policies are understood at the beginning of each year in our team handbook.  We also have developed a style which allows us to play more kids during a normal game which helps as well.  But most of all, I think that I have had a lot parents with a strong desire to see their children succeed in a team setting no matter what their roles have been.

CR:  What was the latest movie you saw?


Haagsma: I am not really a movie person.  Plus, with three young kids, I don't really have the time to go.  I did see  Glory Road and Click either late last spring or during the summer. 


CR: What is your all time favorite movie?


Haagsma: I love Sean Connery films.  Probably The Rock,  and The Hunt for Red October.  All of the movies made from the Tom Clancy books were great.


CR:  Have you ever, or will you look for another Head job in Arizona at the prep level?


Haagsma: I don't know.  I really like where I am at for more than just basketball reasons.  But, I don't think I could say never.

CR: Is reaching the College level as a coach a goal for you?


Haagsma: Yes, I would like to go and coach at the college level some day.  I am a very competitive person and I would like to see if I am able to make it there. 



CR:  Your style of play is (in my opinion) one of the best I have seen at any level, how would you describe it, and do you have a system that is implemented from the freshmen & JV teams?


Haagsma: Thank you, but it is because of the players and the coaches around me that make it work.  I have had tremendous coaches at all three levels.  I also have had a run of great players, especially guards, for the last 8-9 years.  Most coaches would agree, you have to have the players to make the system work.


At VCHS, we have worked very hard to establish our boys basketball PROGRAM.  We believe that freshman need to see the varsity and the varsity needs to be involved in the JV and freshman as well.  I think this develops a cohesive program.  We also practice with our JV and Varsity together over half of our practices.  Therefore, our JV kids are inundated with the same drills that our varsity runs through on a daily basis. 


Over the years, I have enjoyed going to many coaching clinics where there have been a lot of great coaches who really can teach basketball.  I have tried to incorporate some of their ideas to help us at VCHS be more successful.  All three teams use a lot of the same drills to incorporate the things that we try to get our teams to do. 


The Cager Report on would like to thank Coach Haagsma for letting us conduct this interview!  Good luck to Valley Christian in 06-07!


Attention coaches, athletic directors or players, please contact us at if interested in previewing a head coach or player.

Gary Trousdale

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