Sisson Had Interesting Bike Ride
After a five-year hiatus from coaching basketball, George Sisson returned this season when he took over the reins of the Jamestown Community College women's basketball team.
''It was like getting back on the bike,'' he said about his return to the bench.
But it was a bumpy ride.
When Sisson, who had previously coached men's basketball as a head coach and assistant for 22 years at Roberts Wesleyan College, Eastern Nazarene College and JCC, was asked in an August interview his thoughts about coaching women, he answered distinctly.
''What I said was right on, I was coaching basketball,'' he recalled after emphasizing it didn't matter if it was men or women.
His Jayhawks discovered that early.
After taking over a women's program coached very successfully by Keith Martin for 13 seasons, Sisson met with his players, who he had not recruited. After a few getting-acquainted sessions, the team held its first practice in October. On the court, Sisson gave some instruction about what was planned for that day and then things got underway - sort of.
''I can remember turning around and they were just walking to their spot and my fuse, which was about a 16th of an inch, (went off) and boom and I started right in. I was kind of getting after them a little bit. I think they were shocked that it went that quick.''
And what was the Jayhawks' reaction?
''I think there was a sense of relief like, 'Oh, he's here to coach,''' Sisson said. ''From that moment, I think they responded like I hoped they would - like athletes, like competitors.''
He added, ''We all want to be liked, but in coaching you better be far more respected than liked.''
Sisson thinks it took about a month of practice before he and the players began to feel comfortable with each other. Then their first test was a scrimmage at Pitt-Bradford on Oct. 27 and they failed.
''We went over there and we got drubbed,'' Sisson said. ''They 'outphysicaled' us, they outran us, they outexecuted us. They outdid everything.''
He recalled asking assistant coach Travis Wells, ''Are we going to win a game?''
To make matters worse, the next scrimmage scheduled two days later was canceled. So the next action for JCC was its season-opening game at Tompkins-Cortland CC, a week after the disaster at Pitt-Bradford.
''I don't know if we scored 30 points in that scrimmage at Pitt-Bradford and then we go to TC3 and we beat them,'' Sisson said. ''We beat them by 14.''
So he quickly had his question answered if the team was going to win a game. But the next day the Jayhawks played their home opener and fell to Niagara College from Canada, which sunk a winning free throw with no time left on the clock.
''We played here the next day and had a tragic loss,'' Sisson said. ''We played awful against Niagara. So we went from the high of highs to the low of lows in a 24-hour time span.''
However, things turned around for the rest of the semester. Sisson listed to two turning points and one was a rematch with Niagara at Welland, Ontario.
''We were down double-digits up there and then all of a sudden we it turned it on and we won that ballgame on the road,'' Sisson said. ''In the last two or three minutes we just made plays defensively.''
Then later at Orange CC, the only Division II team JCC played in the second semester, the Jayhawks were down 15 at halftime.
''We came back and dominated in the second half, again defensively,'' Sisson said. ''That was a big win.''
The Jayhawks finished the first semester with an 11-4 record, but it was not the wins and losses that were important. It was that Sisson and his players were finally getting on the same page. Like before under Martin, the first semester was used to prepare for the more important second semester filled with NJCAA Region 3 Division II games.
''I think the beauty of it was we gained a lot of experience in the first semester,'' he said. ''We were able to get better as we were learning. We grew as a team.''
While the Jayhawks were growing, it was difficult for former coach Martin had to watch what had been ''his team.'' But on the plus side, he enjoyed his new position.
''He loves his AD (athletic director) job,'' Sisson said.''As a coach, to have a former coach as your AD who knows what you're dealing with everyday is great.''
A key to the Jayhawks success, as usual, was the work of assistant coach Travis Wells.
''Travis is a silent giant,'' Sisson said of the soft-spoken assistant who completed his 17th season.''He has a wealth of knowledge and experience. He was an assistant who was allowing me to grow into this position.''
The second semester was filled with ups and mostly downs. JCC was 5-10 and it suffered two three-game losing streaks and lost four of its last five games.
However, when things were looking down, Sisson remembered things could never be as down as at the opening scrimmage. That's when he would remind his team, ''Remember Bradford.''
The Jayhawks, who lost in the Region 3 Division II championship game the previous season, appeared to be headed on the road for a sub-regional game they would have to win to make the regional semifinals.
Then came a big break for the JCC when the No. 3 seed in the tournament dropped out. Suddenly the fourth-seeded Jayhawks were hosting a sub-regional game against Genesee CC, which had won only one game, and they won easily to make the semifinals.
In that semifinal game last Saturday at Erie CC, JCC's season came to a tragic end. The game was close in the first half when one of the Jayhawks was punched and left the game with broken jaw. It not only took away a top player, but also the wind out of JCC's sails as it went on lose.
But it's not the loss that lingers for Sisson, it is the punch.
''I'm a little bit numb from the weekend,'' he said. ''I'm stunned and emotionally worn out over trying to get my mind wrapped around the fact that can it still happen today.''
He is also upset that his complete team was not together after the game because one member was at the emergency room.
''We didn't have any closure,'' Sisson said. And he noted he didn't get to say, ''This will be the last time we'll be together like this. We haven't been there yet. We need to get to that point.''
That will happen when the injured player returns to campus and the team gets together for a last time.
Then it will be time for Sisson to get back on the bike and continue his ride into the 2013-14 season.