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On opposite sides: Former Portage coaches Snodgrass and McKim match up in first game at new school

HOBART TOWNSHIP -- You always remember the first one.

It'll be no different for Cory McKim for reasons that go beyond his debut as River Forest coach Wednesday.

His starting five included his son Zach, and on the other half of the court was Rick Snodgrass, the man he shared a bench with for the prior 14 years at Portage.

"This week was hard," McKim said after the Ingots' 45-37 victory over LaCrosse. "Coach sent me an email this week, he said good luck, you're going to do a great job. When he walked in at 4:30, it was pretty emotional. We were together for 14 years. We had our ups and downs, but I have so much respect for him. I'm glad it's over. I feel bad he lost even though he's happy for me. I know how bad he wants to get to that 500th (career) win even though he won't say it. I hope he gets there."

Snodgrass, sporting a green tie adorned with a tiger, has sprouted plenty of branches on his coaching tree in 38 years, but he believed McKim was the first he's faced at the varsity level.

"As much as I wanted to win, I'm happy for Cory," he said. "Cory did such a great job for me for 14 years. We're very close friends obviously. We love one another and respect one another. I know he'll do a good job here."

The two coach with a similar get after it intensity, evidenced by how close they unknowingly came to each other near midcourt a few times as they paced back and forth during the game.

"I'm kind of a fiery person. I love 'em at the same time," McKim said. "I told them, I'm going to be the same way (in games), then give you a big hug afterward. Snod's the same way. They play extremely hard for him."

"I told the kids, I'm going to coach you hard," Snodgrass said.

There was at least one time, when Snodgrass called Stack for a LaCrosse inbounds play, that McKim seemed to know what was coming.

"I think he knew our sets more," Snodgrass said. "They didn't run a lot of sets."

McKim said he was waiting for Snodgrass to call a timeout so he could come out with pressure.

"He did some different stuff," McKim said. "The handoff stuff, especially in the first half, really affected us. They'd fake it, and turn and go. We talked about that at halftime -- take a step off of it and stop reaching for the handoff."

River Forest beat LaCrosse with dribble drives that created open 3s, and beating up the Tigers on the board with a much beefier lineup.

"We didn't do a very good job on the defensive boards. That hurt us," Snodgrass said. "We only allowed 45 points, but we allowed them to penetrate, then they dished and hit the 3s."

Then again, if LaCrosse had shot just OK or taken care of the ball, that may been a moot point. The Tigers hit at a 28 percent clip, including 4-of-19 from the arc, and had 19 turnovers.

"We just missed too many shots," Snodgrass said. "We had point-blank shots, then it gets to the point where we're rushing 3s."

The Ingots never trailed after Joey Ondo's 3 broke a 7-7 tie, but never connected on a knockout punch. It was a four-point game with four minutes left, but a three-plus-minute drought doomed the Tigers.

"I thought it was a hard-fought game," Snodgrass said. "It's a learning process, a learning process for myself, watching the kids play. We miss Noah (Kniefel). He'll make a difference. We just couldn't get over that hump. They hit key shots. Now that we can learn off the film, we'll tweak some things. The kids are going to grow. The effort was good. We just have to get better. It's a long season. Win or lose, there's going to be ebbs and flows."

Carter Burkholder led LaCrosse with 12 points, including three 3s. Ben Garwood added 11 points, but shot just 5-of-17.

"(Burkholder)'s a heck of a shooter," McKim said. "Garwood, Gorski, they have three really good players. (Garwood) hit a couple shots early. I didn't think he'd be that aggressive with his shot. We made a million mistakes, but we played hard. Our biggest problem is we can't put successful possessions back to back. The same thing on the defensive end. Sometimes, our best offense was the offensive rebound. To get where we want to be, we have to be a lot more efficient. Six or seven of these kids, I've only had a couple weeks because of football. We're still building."

Matthews had 10 of his game-high 15 points in the second half. Travis Randolph, a 6--fot-3 junior, registered eight of his 11 after the break to go with seven boards.

"The first game's always tough. You go with who you trust," McKim said. "The biggest thing here is just some stability. I'm the third coach in three years. The seniors, I'm very proud of. They've worked hard. They've let me get on their case. Everybody here's been great."

As McKim embarked on his debut the same night Snodgrass coached his 834 varsity game, he's taken at least a few things to heart from his mentor.

"Just enjoy the moment, enjoy what you do. It can change quickly," said McKim, whose staff includes three former Indians -- Donte Nelson, Damonte Lowery and Michael Lattanzi. "If you would've told me a year ago that I'd be over here... He's such an organized guy. One of the things he always said is the biggest surprise will be all the other stuff you have to do. Just how well he handled all that stuff off the court, that's how I'm trying to be."

In addition to the typical fan contingents, the crowd included former Portage football coach Darren Rodriguez, former Portage Athletics Director Terry Milner and some former Indians players.

Cory McKim and Rick Snodgrass squared off as coaches Wednesday as their respective teams, River Forest and LaCrosse, met in the boys basketball season opener. McKim was Snodgrass' assistant at Portage the last 14 years. Photo by Jim Peters

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