By Mike Monahan
One person who may have watched the men’s NCCA Basketball Tournament differently than before is Bob Lockart.
It looked like Lockart was going to start his fifth season as the boys’ basketball coach at Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg last November.
In fact the team had held its annual soap game and were just a week away from the beginning of the season at the Cerro Gordo/Bement Thanksgiving Tournament.
That is when Lockart, an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach, set to enter his 39th season of coaching, accepted a new position and that is the Eastern Illinois University Men’s basketball head assistant coach to Marty Simmons.
It was not an easy decision, said Lockart, won more than 400 games at the high school level.
“It was a one time opportunity,” said Lockart, a Shelbyville grad. “I respect coach Simmons and I feel very fortunate to get the opportunity. They are good people at Windsor/Stew-Stras with (coach) Shane (Smith). They get it. It was a good opportunity for me to have this chance. It was a tough decision, but, again, I feel very fortunate to get to do something like this, this late in my career of coaching.”
Smith took over as the head coach at W/SS.
Lockart coached seven different teams and in five different conferences, starting at Argenta-Oreana (first season was 1980-81) and included two stints at Sullivan, two at Mattoon (1987-88 through 1990-91 and 1998-99 through 2006-07), Decatur Eisenhower, Effingham, Neoga and W/SS.
Lockart has known Simmons for many years.
“Of course, everyone knew him when he played (at Lawrenceville, where he was Mr. Basketball in 1983 and helped the Indians, coached by Ron Felling, win back-to-back undefeated (34-0) Class A state titles. I was already coaching during his junior and senior years runs.”
Lockart met Simmons when he coached at Evansville. They stayed in touch, Lockart traveling regularly to watch the school play and for camps.
“I learned a lot and have taken a lot from him,” Lockart said. “When you look at his career, he played for some of the best coaches of that time (Bob Knight at Indiana and Jim Crews at Evansville). I continue to learn from him and that is what I am trying to do at this point in time.”
Another EIU assistant coach is Simmons’ classmate Doug Novsek, who was the Mr. Basketball runner-up in 1983.
Simmons, who has a career record of 296-296 at Evansville, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and Wartburg, appreciates Locker’s basketball knowledge.
“He is the best,” said Simmons. “He is a basketball encyclopedia. He coaches young people for all of the right reasons. He is all about helping young people grow not just in basketball, but life. He is very passionate about helping other people. He has been a real asset to our program.”
The first game for Lockart at the collegiate level was Nov. 21 in a 102-40 win over Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. He said he learned on the fly.
“The first week or so I was thinking ‘Oh, my,'”Lockart said. “But, when you step back and start to watch a lot of film, you start realizing what you are trying to fix and what is fixable and those types of things. The game is still one where you have to box out and still have to take care of the ball. It is all the same the communication and those things. It gradually has slowed down in that process.”
Lockart coached teams to 14 winning seasons, was the 1986 JG-TC Coach of the Year when he guided Sullivan to a 24-5 record and a Class A regional title. He was also the Mattoon boys’ golf coach for years and was a quarterback at Millikin University.
Lockart was a part-time teacher at Windsor the last four years.
Eastern was 4-10 in games decided by 10 points or less this past season, finishing 9-22 overall.
“We didn’t quite get over the hump,” said Simmons. “I think we made a lot of strides. We improved in a lot of areas. We came real close. The experience that our young guys got from this is really going to pay dividends.”
The Panthers pulled off a big victory against Iowa at Iowa City, after trailing 45-37 at halftime. The Panthers dominated by shooting 72 percent in the second half to win 92-83.
“First of all, walking in and seeing the arena is a neat thing to do,” said Lockart. “I am a basketball junkie like any fan is. As the game went on, we were down early and then it just got the feeling late in the first half where we started getting some deflections and steals and ran the floor. In the second half we just flat outplayed them. It was sort of surreal there at the end as you are sitting there thinking this is going to happen.”
It was EIU’s second ever win over a Big Ten team, the other in 1987 against Wisconsin.
Lockart keeps track of ouEIU’sr offensive possessions, jotting notes throughout the game. “I am more in that advisement role and just trying to keep track versus anything else,” he said.
Lockart said being Windsor was difficult.
“I respect Marty (Simmons) so much,” he said “My family said, ‘Hey, when you get done with all of this (coaching) you don’t want to look back and say, should I or shouldn’t I have? Maybe this is something.’
Lockart said his job requires a lot of prep work and a lot of practice.
“It is just a difference of now I am not teaching 3-4-5-6 hours a day,” he said, “and then walking into the gym and working basketball. Now, it is full go, full prep. I hope it continues. I have a lot to learn.”
Lockart’s advice for high school coaches that want to move on the collegiate level is, “Love what you do and do what you love because there is nothing like it in my mind. You get a tremendous amount of opportunity to develop a lot of relationships with a lot of people in different ways.”