John’s Journal: New Coaches, New Energy
First-Year Leaders For Anoka, Irondale Basketball
Posted: Wednesday, December 15, 2021 - 2:11 PM
In the second game of the season for both teams, the Irondale boys basketball team traveled to Anoka for a non-conference contest last week. It wasn’t a highly anticipated matchup, considering that the Irondale Knights went 1-18 last season and the Anoka Tornadoes finished 0-19.
That combined record of 1-37 is in the past now, and both teams have new leadership in first-year head coaches who bring energy and solid basketball backgrounds – including college coaching experience -- to their new positions.
Irondale coach Trent Davis and Anoka coach Jesse Jefferson are both 31 years old. They are Minnesota-born but spent time in other states before returning. Both work with students in non-classroom roles at their schools; Jefferson is a student achievement advisor at Anoka and Davis is a behavior specialist at Irondale.
“It’s impactful. It feels good,” Jefferson said of his job away from basketball.
Jefferson was born in Minneapolis and moved to Georgia when he was 12. He played on a state-tournament basketball team at Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Ga., and returned to Minnesota as a player at Bethel University in St. Paul from 2011-13. He was a junior varsity coach at Coon Rapids from 2013-17 before becoming a member of the coaching staff for the Bethel men’s basketball team.
He’s in his fourth year working at Anoka, and said he had never really thought about becoming a high school head coach until he had spent some time there.
“I worked at the school for a few years and fell in love with the school and the kids,” he said. “I wanted to change the basketball culture.”
Davis was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and grew up in Apple Valley. He attended St. Bernard’s High School in St. Paul, playing basketball there on teams coached by Ed Cassidy that went to state tournaments in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Among his teammates were future Minnesota Gopher Trevor Mbakwe and Jordair Jett, who was the Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year at St. Louis in the 2013-14 season.
“We had some good teams,” said Davis, who played basketball at Wisconsin-Superior and became an assistant there after graduating in 2014. He coached girls basketball at Gateway High School in Kissimmee, Florida, for two years before returning to Minnesota. He spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach at the College of St. Katherine in St. Paul.
“It’s a pretty wonky coaching background,” Davis said. He added that one thing he learned while coaching in Florida was the importance of a basketball team with support that included a program to teach the game to kids before they got to high school
“That made me come up with the idea that if I ever take a high school job again, I would want more support,” he said.
Davis said he has found that at Irondale, calling it “the perfect opportunity. I always wanted to stick with college basketball, but if I had the chance to coach in high school I definitely wanted it to be a team with kids coming up.”
Four Knights are averaging double figures in scoring, with D.J. Anthony at 15, Dane Dedominces at 14, Drake Gomez at 12 and Jordan Tieh at 10.
At Anoka, Jay Nyamari leads the team with a 22-point scoring average, Keenen Rodriguez is at 14, Peyton Podany at 13 and A.J. Howze at 10.
Unlike Jefferson, who has been at Anoka for several years, Davis is new on the scene at Irondale this year and learning about the school and the students.
“I’m trying to get to know the players on a game level at this point,” he said. “We want people to talk about Irondale with a positive aspect and we want our players to be good young men, which starts in the classroom. We want them to go to class, do their job and be students first.”
Both coaches stress the importance of culture on their teams, and both know that expectations – at least on the outside – are not high this season. Anoka is in the Northwest Suburban Conference and Class 4A Section 7. Irondale plays in the Suburban East Conference and Class 4A Section 5.
“We have high expectations for ourselves and I think we can compete to win our section,” Jefferson said. “We want to compete in every game.”
Davis said, “I’m not sure how far we will go. We could end up in the middle of the pack in our conference, which is tough with teams like East Ridge and Cretin-Derham Hall, Mounds View and others. We’re trying to take it game by game because it’s so new to me. … We really want to get Irondale basketball on the map and get people talking about us.”
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]