HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Nathan Courtney has several stories he could tell about his time on the sidelines at the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball National Tournament.
Hopefully, he’ll have plenty more to talk about in the future. His most recent trip, which should have his most memorable, instead left the first-time national tournament head coach searching for answers.
“My team just came out and played nervous. There was nothing I could do to stop it,” Courtney said. “I burned up all my timeouts. I practically burned up all the other team’s timeouts. I just could not get them to calm down for most of the game.”
Courtney, a former Indian Hills assistant coach with two separate stints under then Warriors’ head coach Jeff Kidder at the national tournament, felt the head coaching pressures at Hutchinson for the first time last week. His Highland Cougars, which qualified as winners of Region 9, nearly overcame a slow start due to their nerves to hand their head coach a national tournament head coaching debut win.
Unfortunately, a 3-point shot by freshman sharp shooter Grant Prusator came up just short as the Cougars fell to eventual national champion Jones County 81-79. As it would turn out, the victory would be the first of many close wins for Jones County last week, capped off by an 87-77 win in the national title game over Courtney’s former school, Indian Hills, on Saturday.
For Courtney, however, his first national tournament game as head coach will go down as a classic case of what might have been.
“Being tough mentally is much more important than being tough physically in this environment. I don’t know who those guys wearing orange were in those first 25 minutes (last Tuesday), but it wasn’t the same team that worked so hard to be in the national tournament,” Courtney said. “It’s awful because we’d been playing so well to get here and, from the first possession, we didn’t play like ourselves.”