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A season of change on basketball courts across the county


FARMINGTON − There's been a lot of change across San Juan County high school basketball teams since the conclusion of last season, which wrapped up last March.

As many as five high schools across the county have changed coaches, either for their respective boys or girls teams, and those changes have resulted in a variety of mixed results.

The current prep basketball season, which opened across the state last week, features seven new coaches heading different programs in local and area high schools.

Aztec welcomed back Bill McLaughlin to run the girls hoops program, while Forrest Becker arrived this summer at Piedra Vista to coach the boys basketball team.

Meantime, Shiprock and Bloomfield made coaching changes to both their boys and girls programs during the offseason. The Chieftains hired Larenson Henderson earlier this year to run the boys program while Robert McCaskill takes over coaching duties for the girls team. Bloomfield hired Dominique Richardson to lead the Bobcats boys team while replacing also adding Brady Rivers to coach the girls team.

Rivers takes over the program from Tom Adair, who has coached several sports across San Juan County schools for many years, and was hired last spring to take over as the girls coach at Farmington High.

"The support I've had since coming here has been phenomenal," Adair said of his time coaching the Lady Scorpions. "From the administration to the teachers and of course the kids, they've made me feel very welcomed and the proof has been in the results on and off the court."

Coaching changes in prep and collegiate basketball programs are common. A study released in 2017 by the University of Indiana found more than 730 coaching changes in Division 1 men's basketball programs over a 15-year timeframe. That study found there were several reasons for those changes, including pressure from athletic or school personnel, as well as administration, alumni, or fans.

Other determining factors include coaches who struggle to fulfill expectations can find themselves out of a job while others leave for positions that are more prestigious, or for retirement.

At the high school level, in places like Sarasota County, Florida, where nine different coaches will be at courtside for area prep teams, those changes are also quite common. The reasons for those changes are similar, with a growing number of coaches, especially those from the American Athletic Union coaching ranks, have worked their way to the high school level.

"There were plenty of reasons to come back," said Henderson when it was announced last summer he'd be taking over the boys program at Shiprock High. "There were plenty of reasons to go to Farmington at the time. I love the challenge of the competition of basketball. They’ve got to share that commitment and sacrifice. Maybe I can get them over that hump.”

Henderson guided the Lady Scorpions from 2019 through 2022, leading the team to the Class 5A semifinals and a loss to Volcano Vista last season. Henderson won 77 games coaching the Lady Scorpions, losing only 26.

"I tell kids all the time that things change," Henderson said of his return to Shiprock. "My heart is here and being here for my community feels right."

So far, Henderson's boys team at Shiprock High School is off to a 2-2 start, having won their first pair of games before dropping their last pair in tournament action on their home court.

McCaskill, who took over the girls program at Shiprock after having spent nine years at Aztec High School, has the Lady Chieftains off to a 1-3 start to the current season.

Adair, who last coached the girls team at Bloomfield High School, has helped lead the Lady Scorpions to a 5-0 start to the season, including a tournament championship game victory over Tohatchi in the John Lomasney Invitational at Gallup High School.

"I really love this team and we just have to keep getting better and keep having fun doing it," Adair said after the championship game victory.

Becker, who took over the Piedra Vista boys program earlier this spring, is trying to rebuild a program that has struggled in recent years. A 36-year-old former player and assistant coach at Adams State University, Becker came had coaching gigs at both Walatowa Charter School as well as Cliff High School before accepting the job at Piedra Vista, which hasn't had a winning season since 2015.

"We're a young team, and we're all getting to know each other a lot more," Becker said. "The battle will be to continue to learn on the fly and learn to make adjustments to the level of play that we see throughout the year."

So far, the Panthers are off to a slow start, having lost each of their first five games, including getting swept in a tournament last weekend.

McLaughlin's return to courtside for the Aztec High School girls team came about last May after stepping down as principal at Newcomb High School. McLaughlin coached the Lady Tigers basketball team for three seasons, as well as at Newcomb, where the team went 25-5 in his last season as head coach in 2020, advancing to the Class 2A state tournament quarterfinals before being eliminated by Clayton.

The Lady Tigers are off to an 0-2 start to the current season, having lost to both Thoreau and Moriarty.

At Bloomfield High School, the boys and girls teams are off to fast starts with their new coaches, especially on the boys team, which wrapped up the Chieftain Invitational with an 83-58 championship game Saturday night victory over Whitehorse (Utah). The Bobcats are off to a 3-1 start under Richardson, who has coached basketball both in New Mexico and most recently in the state of Texas.

"These kids are really buying into the style I want to play," Richardson said after the tournament victory. "Energy and effort has been a real point of emphasis for me and the team."

The Lady Bobcats, now under the leadership of Rivers, are off to a 3-1 start after a pair of wins last weekend in tournament action.