COLUMBIA — When Rock Bridge boys basketball coach Jim Scanlon was a kid, his father Francis "Biggy" Scanlon drove Jim and his younger brother Mark to Columbia from Breckenridge to watch the high school basketball tournament in Brewer Fieldhouse.
MSHSAA CLASS 5 STATE
BOYS BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS
vs. Rock Bridge (27-2)
WHEN: 3:20 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM
"We thought it was the greatest thing ever," Jim Scanlon said. "Neither one of us knew we'd coach there. We'd take the day off from school and we always went to the state tournament."
At 3:20 p.m. today at Mizzou Arena, Jim Scanlon's Bruins play in the same tournament.
"I kinda thought I was in heaven," Jim Scanlon said of skipping school to watch basketball. "Now you're part of it, so it's kind of amazing."
If the Bruins beat Chaminade today, they advance to play in the championship game at 8:20 p.m. Saturday.
Almost everything that any high school coach could want to accomplish Jim Scanlon has done. He has sent players to Division I schools. He was inducted into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on June 1, 2007. He has molded boys into young men. His teams have winning records, and he has complied a 573-189 record over 28 years of coaching. He has even coached his own boys.
But he has never won a state title.
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Francis Scanlon always told his sons to do something they loved as a job. Francis Scanlon passed his love of sports down to his sons. It makes sense that they became basketball coaches, both with over 500 wins.
Jim Scanlon started as an agriculture major at MU because he grew up on a farm, but "that didn't make much sense," according to Mark Scanlon.
"It didn't take me about two years to learn I didn't want to be a farmer," Jim Scanlon said. "I got into (physical education) and that's where I should have been and where I wanted to be. I wouldn't have been a good farmer."
When Mark Scanlon attended college at Missouri Western, he would drive to watch Jim coach his first team in Eagleville, which is about eight miles from the Missouri-Iowa border. Maybe that's why when you're watching one of the Scanlon brothers teams, it is hard to tell who is the coach.
"We run a lot of the same plays with different names," Mark Scalon said.
Mark Scanlon got his 500th win earlier this season coaching at Raytown High School. He coached current NBA player Tyronn Lue when he played for the Blue Jays.
Jim Scanlon developed most of his coaching philosophy from his dad. Francis Scanlon would watch so many games with his sons that his thoughts rubbed off on them. Mark Scanlon said that because his brother was a varsity coach his first season, instead of being an assistant for a big city team, that Jim Scanlon learned a lot on his own.
"I was from a small school, I had first-year coaches every year," Jim Scanlon said. "I learned more from my dad than them."
One thing that Jim Scanlon preaches is fundamentals. Every practice his teams shoot free throws and jump shots at least three times with Scanlon barking in the background. Players run sprints when they miss free throws. When a player, even the star players, make a fundamental mistake, the player often finds himself sitting on the bench for a little bit. His son, Blair, who coaches the Rock Bridge junior varsity team, knows where the strictness for fundamentals came from.
"I just think it was the way he was brought up," Blair Scanlon said. "Chores had to be done the right way. Everything had to be done the right way, and that's the way I was brought up."
Not a lot has changed in Jim Scanlon's philosophy except he has stopped wearing short gym shorts in favor of the long, baggy ones his team wears during practice.
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Jim Scanlon has taken Rock Bridge to the Show-Me Showdown twice and each time the Bruins lost in the semifinal then won the third-place game.
The last time the Bruins were in the Show-Me Showdown was 1997. That team won 29 straight games before losing to Christian Brothers and future NBA lottery pick Larry Hughes before he went on to star at St. Louis University and the NBA. That Rock Bridge team featured his son, Brennan, who is now the head coach at Mexico High School and former MU player Josh Kroenke.
That Rock Bridge team was the perfect Jim Scanlon team. They weren't the best athletes but they were smart and passed the ball well and just out-executed teams.
"We were smart and we could shoot," Brennan Scanlon said. "We had a lot of confidence and once we got on that streak, we told ourselves we weren't going to lose."
Two years later, in March 1999, Jim Scanlon resigned, partly because he wanted to watch his son Brennan play at Central Missouri State. But after his 1997 team, the Bruins had gone 27-27 over the next two seasons, and Jim Scanlon can't stand going .500.
"I really just think he wanted to watch his kids play," Mark Scanlon said.
Four years later, Jim Scanlon returned to Rock Bridge. Since then, he has had some of his most successful teams. The Bruins have won four straight district titles.
The past three years, Jim Scanlon has led his team to a No. 1 state ranking for at least part of the season. But each season except for this one, his team failed to get past sectionals. That's how its been for Jim Scanlon his entire career, he's always been just short of winning the championship.
"There's been a lot of sad conversations the last four or five years," Mark Scanlon said.
Jim Scanlon hopes this is the year he can put his mark on the Rock Bridge gym. The school only hangs state championship banners to honor their teams, so you would never know Jim Scanlon, one of the most successful coaches in state history, coached there by looking at the walls.
"I guess it means you're good at what you do," Jim Scanlon said. "But I would call these guys champions even before their first game."