Metamora High School Boys Basketball feature
West Bolivar High School was the No. 1 team in the state of Mississippi in 1998. They entered the state championship game with a 39-0 record and a roster of big, fast, athletic shooters who averaged a whopping 90 points per game.
The team they were about to play for the state title (just a formality, really) was the smaller, less athletic team out of Morton, Miss. — the team coached by Danny Grieves, a 39-year old relative newcomer to the Mississippi high school basketball scene who was in his first year at Morton.
Grieves’ team used a full-court man-to-man defense against the mighty West Bolivar team, and, when the final buzzer sounded, David, not Goliath, hoisted the state championship trophy.
It was a true underdog story —the kind you see in the movies.
Grieves, who is in his first season as Metamora’s coach after spending 14 years in Mississippi, still has the ball from that state title game in a glass case in his office.
The final score is printed in black marker:
West Bolivar 52.
That’s right: 52.
Grieves’s team held the high-flying Eagles to 48 points below their season average. West Bolivar’s point guard, who averaged 28 points per game, did not make one shot.
The point of this story?
It says a number of things about Grieves.
First, don’t ever count him out.
“We just tried to contest every shot, and we played hard,” Grieves said of his underdog state champions. “You go out and play hard, and play your best, and you never know what can happen. We knew it was going to be a tough game, and not many people thought we would win. But, our kids knew we could win, and that’s all that mattered.”
The real point of the story, though, is that it symbolizes what Grieves wants to achieve here at Metamora.
He does not promise state titles (at least not yet), but he has an unabashed confidence when he vows to make the Redbird basketball program one of the most respected in the state.
“I came here to win,” he said sternly in the slight Southern accent that he acquired in Mississippi.
He will not settle for mediocrity, and there are two terms he dislikes: “Football school” and “rebuilding year.”
“I’ve heard people say that Metamora is a football school. I came from Mississippi where football is the main event. That doesn’t mean you can’t have success in other sports,” he said. “Metamora has won nine all-conference trophies in a row. This school excels in a lot of sports. The football team has had a lot of success, which is great. There’s no reason why our basketball team can’t have that, too ... And, why sell yourself short by saying that this is a rebuilding year? We’re out to win a Sectional and see how far we can go from there. That’s going to be the goal every year.”
‘Lion’ at heart
Grieves, 53, was born and raised in Peoria, off Sterling Avenue, across from the golf course.
He attended Holy Family Grade School and Peoria Central High School with his five siblings (his parents had six kids in seven years), who all played sports in school and in the back yard.
“That was the thing to do back then,” he said. “Everybody just got together and played. We played everything — baseball, basketball, football...”
Grieves played basketball at Peoria Central, where he was close friends with teammate Dan Ruffin, who is now the coach of the No. 1-ranked Peoria Central boys team.
The Lions were ranked No. 2 in the state in 1976 (Grieves’ senior season), and Richwoods was ranked No. 1, but both teams were upset in the Regional that year.
“Manual beat us, and Galesburg beat Richwoods that same night,” Grieves said. “So, we never got to play Richwoods in the playoffs, which is what everybody in Peoria wanted to see.”
After high school, Grieves played basketball at St. Petersburg (Fla.) Junior College before transferring to Monmouth College.
“I just wanted to play,” he said. “Basketball kept me in school.”
At Monmouth, he played for the legendary Dr. Terry Glasgow, who amassed 469 wins in his 35-year career.
“I was very fortunate to have him as my coach,” Grieves said. “I learned so much from him.”
In 1982, Grieves took a job as a graduate assistant at Northwestern (La.) State University, where he took classes, taught part-time and helped with the basketball program.
That’s also where he met his wife, Kim, a former All-American high school player out of Buckeye, La., who was the captain of the Northwestern State women’s team. Kim went on to have a succssful high school coaching career of her own. She is currently coach at Metamora Grade School.
Grieves held several coaching jobs in the south (he was 106-19 in four years at Gulport (Miss.) High School) and returned to serve as an assistant at Monmouth in the early 80s, but he said he did not have the desire to become a full-time college coach.
“I wanted to raise my kids,” he said. ‘I didn’t want to be the dad who was gone all the time.”
He and his wife have five children (Nike, Tara, D.R., Daniel and Jackson), all of whom played basketball.
Jackson is a junior and one of the leading scorers at Metamora. Tara was an all-state player in eighth grade. She once made eight 3-pointers in one game. D.R. and Daniel were all-state players in Mississippi. Daniel, a 6’7” left-handed shooter, is the all-time leading scorer at St. Stanislaus High School in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
In the mid-80s, Grieves was the head coach at Lawrenceville (Ill.) High School, where he became friends with former Indiana University assistant coach Ron Felling.
That friendship opened the doors to Indiana’s campus, and Grieves took advantage of the opportunity to get close to iconic coach Bobby Knight.
“I learned most of my defensive philosophy (straight up man-to-man) from Coach Knight,” he said. “I would go to practice and clinics and chat with him (Knight). It was a great experience.”
Grieves also worked as an assistant coach at Woodruff and head coach at Peoria Notre Dame prior to heading back to Mississippi in the late 90s.
Prior to coming to Metamora last year, Grieves was an assistant coach at St. Stanislaus. The 2010 team went 34-2 and won the state championship.
Motion, and man-to-man
One day last summer, Grieves saw an online job posting for the Metamora head boys basketball coaching position.
He called to inquire about the job, and was told to contact Randy Toepke, who was soon to be named superintendent.
“I remembered Randy from when I coached against him (Toepke was Metamora’s coach from 184-94). He’s a class guy,” Grieves said. “What you see is what you get. He’s all class.”
Grieves came to Metamora for an interview on a Tuesday.
“They (Toepke, athletic director Jared Hart and former superintendent Ken Mauer) grilled me for about four hours, but it was a great interview,” he said.
He was offered the job the next day. The board approved him that Thursday night.
“And, I was at work Friday morning,” he said.
Grieves said he wanted to come back to Illinois so he could take care of his 81-year-old mother, who still lives in Peoria.
“My dad died six years ago. My siblings are all scattered over the country. Before my dad died, I told him I would take care of momma,” he said. “This was the perfect opportunity to come back here ... Metamora is a great community, and I’m glad it worked out for me and my family to move up here.”
Assistant coach Kyle Weyeneth was hired the same day Grieves took the job.
“We worked the next 21 days in a row without a break, and without much sleep,” Grieves said. “We took inventory of everything we had here. We evaluated what we knew about the players. We talked about what type of team we were going to be. Kyle deserves a lot of credit. He’s works as hard as anybody.”
Grieves brought his motion offense and man-to-man defense to Metamora, which is 19-6 and in contention for a Mid-Illini Conference title.
“It’s pretty much the same style we played at Peoria Central. It won me a couple state titles along the way,” he said. “It’s tried and true. Our kids have bought into it, and I’m proud of the way they’ve competed this season.”
Grieves also brought an intensity and toughness to the Redbird sideline, but he said he has a softer side, too.
“The most important thing is honesty,” he said. “If I’m hard on a kid, then there’s a reason. I’ll tell the kids what I expect. But, I can lighten up, too. You just don’t see that side of me as much during a game.”
Before a recent home game, Grieves smiled and gave his grandson a hug and a fist pump, but then it was all business.
“My (three) grandkids are what it’s all about,” he said. “I’m a proud grandpa.”
A couple years ago, when his oldest grandson started talking, his first word was “Mom.” His second word was “basketball.”
“I tried to get him to say basketball first,” Grieves said, smiling.