2018 Basketball

Coach Ken Darting leads T-Birds into the new season

Bryce Cook

Hall of Fame basketball coach Ken Darting came out of retirement when he accepted the coaching position at Heights this summer, replacing Steve Wallace who is now coaching at Gardner-Edgerton High School after winning the state championship at Heights in 2017.

Darting, who has been coaching for 41 years, has coached all over the state and even started his own academy. He was the head coach for Highland Park, leading them to four state championships.

Darting is a former player who graduated from and played at both Wamego High School and Emporia State University.

“When I retired in 2014 I made a statement, I said, ‘Well, I’m not saying I’m retired for good, I could come back, but for me to do that there would be two requirements that I doubt very seriously that would happen,” Coach Darting said. “One is convenience – the high school is five minutes from my doorstep. The other one would be I want a community and school that wants to be good; they don’t have to presently be good; if you don’t have people who want to be good they probably are not going to get good.”

Darting has some changes he will be bringing to Heights.

“I think Coach Wallace did a great job with them, but anytime you take over a program you have to establish a culture. We want to really push them to self-discipline, we put them through some things they haven’t been through in life,” Coach Darting said.

“[They have to] work really hard and long, some of them don’t like that, but we are trying to get them to a point where they can just do it so it’s not just me forcing them to do it,” Coach Darting said.

Darting hopes to hold the players more accountable this season, getting them to a point where the little things become a habit.

“I think Darting will help the program a lot, he’s a Hall of Fame coach so obviously he’ll definitely help out and he seems to know what he’s doing,” senior Isaiah Bonjour said.

Bonjour has been playing basketball with the program for four years.

“We do a lot more conditioning already. Last year we didn’t usually start conditioning until like mid-October, and we’ve already been running after school all of September,” Bonjour said.

According to the players, Darting has really shown his passion for having a team that is in shape and ready for the season.  

“Defense is a big part of Darting’s coaching style. He has also been focusing on fast breaks,” senior Brandon Walker-Ladish said.

Players at all levels are adapting to coaching changes, as the assistant team has also changed. The JV position is now filled by former head coach Mr. Pat Buchanan. The assistant varsity role by Mr. Christian Ulsaker, who played at Washburn University after being named Mr. Basketball in the state of Kansas his senior year of high school. Mr. Mike Nash, who has coached at Shawnee Heights for decades and was the varsity assistant during the state championship in 2017, is now leading the freshman team.

“I’ll be honest with you, I feel we are way ahead of where I thought we would be as far as coping with a new coach. I think we have a bunch of great kids who have done everything I have asked of them since the beginning of the summer, and have really attempted to do it well and do it hard,” Darting said.

With all four coaches coming from different places and phases of coaching, they are learning to adjust to one another as well as the players.

“I understand it is his program, I’m just gonna kinda build off of what he wants and hopefully throw in some of my ideas here and there to help contribute. So far it’s been good, this is only my first year knowing him, and it seems like he’s going to bring a lot of knowledge to the game that I am excited to learn from,” Coach Ulsaker said.

With official tryouts beginning on November 12, Darting expects things to quickly change.

“Up until now it’s been new coach, try to keep him happy, try to impress him so you can make the team. Well, now we are getting to the point where we are getting ready to cut players and determine who is varsity and who is junior varsity, and how many minutes will you play and what’s your role on the team. When those things start happening you really find out about the team. Up until then, you’re never sure, now we are starting to get into all the ugly things of the season, but I am very confident on this season just because of the kids.  I’ll be very surprised if we don’t react positively to all those things,” Darting said.

Not only is Coach Darting a high school coach he also started his own academy. Darting retired in 2014, and soon started the Darting Basketball Academy.

“My son was coaching Division I at Illinois State and as he was growing up I always said I was disappointed in the fundamentals of the game watching games around. So I told him when I get done, I’m going to start an academy, to teach the fundamentals of basketball. I got a call from my son and he said, ‘You still wanting to start that Academy?’ Up until he asked me that, I had just put it off to the wayside. He told me, ‘You help me and I’ll do it,’ so he came home from Illinois and we started the academy,” Darting said.

Darting Basketball Academy is coming on its fifth year. The population of people wanting to be a part of it is growing as well, as they are expanding to other cities besides Topeka. Darting is able to manage the academy and the high school season because he separated the seasons that he has the academy. The academy runs in the fall and spring so he is able to coach the high school team all winter.

A reward as big as being elected in the hall of fame is a big honor, usually with a reward that big there is a lot of arrogance. This wasn’t the case with Coach Darting.  

“We’ve been fortunate enough to in Shawnee County and Highland Park and Emporia State Hall of Fames, you know that’s kind of a result of being old. I’ve been fortunate enough to win some games. Those things are great and fun to be honored but that comes from so many people, it’s a culture you know players, parents, janitors, athletic booster clubs, administrators, assistant coaches, so many people that make that possible without any of them there’s no Hall of Fame for me.” Darting said.

It’s too early to tell how the season will play out. With the help of Coach Darting, this year has the potential to be a great season.