By Brad Morris
Doug Stiverson finished cutting the final cord of the net and waved it to the crowd of Logan Elm faithful assembled inside Ohio University’s Convocation Center following the 2020 district championship game against Warren.
Stiverson then climbed down the ladder, tossed the net to senior Jared Harrington and started to dance with his players on the hardwood to celebrate an improbable tournament run as the seventh seed in the Division II Southeast District tournament.
It was a scene that former player and assistant coach Tyler Cassidy would not believe was possible during his playing days for Stiverson.
“Coach Stiverson always had such a stoic demeanor when I played for him, because he was still pretty new to Logan Elm,” he said. “You couldn’t tell if we were trailing or winning by 30 points, because he was always very serious and focused on the task at hand.
“If you told me that Coach Stiverson would do that after a game when I was playing, I would have said no way.”
Cassidy credited the ability of his former head coach, boss, mentor and friend for adjusting to the times while maintaining the principles of the program for his longevity of leading the Logan Elm Braves for 24 seasons.
“By the time I was on the staff for a couple of years and took over as junior varsity coach, I could see Coach Stiverson was already starting to loosen up and having more fun since he was established as a head coach,” he said. “I would tease him during practice that his practices were too short compared to when I played, or he was letting someone get away with something that he wouldn’t have let one of my teammates or me get away with.
“Coach Stiverson adjusted to the times he was coaching in and allowed himself to enjoy coaching more and the success that the program was having, while maintaining the discipline, fundamentals and standards that he’s always had. That’s the key to Logan Elm basketball, the principles of toughness, unselfishness and being one large family.”
Following 373 wins, seven Mid-State League Buckeye Division championships, five Southeast District crowns, a pair of district runner-up finishes and a state tournament berth, Stiverson told his players on Friday that he was stepping down as the chief of the Braves.
Building a program
Stiverson came to the Pickaway Plains for the 1999-2000 season after serving as an assistant coach at Miami Trace. He inherited a program that had not won a Mid-State League championship since the 1980-81 season and had not advanced to a Sweet 16 since the 1962-63 campaign.
Tyler Evans was in seventh grade when Stiverson took the helm and would go on to become the first player to start all four seasons under the Capital University alum.
“I don’t know if it was by design, but Coach Stiverson came in and had a my way or the highway attitude. If you came into the gymnasium, you had to have your shirt tucked in and wear a white crew sock,” Evans said. “With that approach, he weeded out a lot of guys who did not want to buy into the program or put in the work that he demanded if you wanted to play.
“Coach Stiverson is also someone who doesn’t sugar coat things. Sometimes you may not hear things that you want to hear, but it’s always constructive criticism because he is trying to make you better and believes in you and your ability to reach a higher level.”
Evans — who went on to play at the University of Findlay, where he earned a spot in Oiler history by hitting the game-winning three to win the 2009 Division II national championship — discussed how he found that practices in college were easier than the ones he went through during his time at Logan Elm.
“When I got to Findlay, I was surprised to find out that our practices were not as long, intense and demanding as the ones I had been through under Coach Stiverson at Logan Elm,” he said. “Our practices at Logan Elm were around two-and-a-half hours long when I played, they were intense and we would work on different drills that were pretty demanding.
“Those practices instilled a toughness, a competitiveness and an edge to us, but they also served the purpose of bringing us closer together as a team and molding us into a family.”
Stiverson began to turn around the program in 2001-02 with a winning record and then won his first sectional championship in 2002-03, earning the Braves a spot in a district semifinal that comes with the opportunity to play under the bright lights of the Convocation Center, which would become a second home for the program under the Logan High School alum.
Cassidy was a senior team captain on the 2003-04 squad that finally broke the program’s league championship drought. He would go on to become Stiverson’s first former player to serve as an assistant on his staff for six seasons and eventually became the head coach at Circleville for four seasons from 2015-19.
Cassidy discussed the transformation that the Braves made under Stiverson and how he would go on to appreciate it more when he became a head coach.
“The practices that Coach Stiverson put us through created a team mentality of toughness, maximum effort and brought us closer together,” he said. “Coach Stiverson created a family mentality in the program where we went from viewing our teammates as just teammates and we viewed them as friends and really like brothers. We celebrated the success that we had together and that became more important than individual accolades. We only had one goal in mind every time we took the floor for a game and that was to win.
“I’m still friends and remain in contact with a lot of the guys that I played with and that goes back to the family atmosphere that Coach Stiverson created. I thought I appreciated it at the time but going on to work at different places and talking to different coaches, I didn’t recognize how hard it can be to change a culture and instill the desire that Coach Stiverson instilled in us. It makes me really appreciate what Coach Stiverson did for us and all the other teams that he’s coached at Logan Elm.”
While the Braves were learning what it took to win under Stiverson, Evans described how he also taught them to handle success.
“It went back to the work ethic that Coach Stiverson instilled in us and how you carry yourself on the floor,” he said. “First, you don’t take success for granted because success comes from hard work, dedication and determination. Second, when you have success, you should act like you’ve been there before. You should be humble and don’t flaunt it in the faces of your opponent by being a showboat.”
Evans felt the Braves often had an edge over their opposition due to conditioning, the culture of the program and finally in preparation.
“Coach Stiverson has a talent for being able to take concepts and make them very simple for players to understand and implement,” he said. “One of the big advantages we had was how well we were prepared for games due to all the scouting that Coach Stiverson and his staff did, coming up with great game plans and then installing them during practice.
“We would be facing a top three-point shooter in the league, and we would work on staying attached to him and shutting him down. We would know if a player could only use his right hand to get to the basket and spots where a player would be most comfortable shooting from, and we would work to take that away.”
Cassidy discussed the seamless connection that existed between the coaches and the players.
“Coach Stiverson obviously knows his Xs and Os, but he was able to connect with us and help us develop a high basketball IQ,” he said. “We would know when to slow down the basketball, when to speed up and when to use our defense to get the other team to speed up and play at a pace that they were not comfortable with.
“The connection from the players to the coaches is the best that I’ve been around. Everyone is on the same page and knows what needs to be done in order to win.”
Evan Blake was the second player to start for all four seasons under Stiverson. He felt there were a number of times during his career when the Braves were not the most talented team on the floor, but still found a way to win the game, such as a 2005-06 encounter with eventual state semifinalist DeSales.
“If you matched our talent with their talent, it was no contest, and I think my teammates would agree with me,” he said. “DeSales had a couple of players on that team who went on to play Division I. They came down here to play us and we got after them and took it to them.
“Before that game and every other game I played in, Coach Stiverson would write heart and toughness on the white board. That’s something he preached 365 days a year and something we lived by. We were more prepared for the game than DeSales was, we were more fundamentally sound than they were, and we played better together than they did. That’s a tribute to the program that Coach Stiverson runs, how well-prepared and conditioned we were and the buy in he gets from his players.”
The right-hand man
During most of Stiverson’s tenure at Logan Elm, Jeff Holbert has been right by his side as varsity assistant.
Teammates at Capital University and neighbors in the district, Holbert came to Logan Elm after serving as head coach at Westfall, where he led the Mustangs to a district runner-up finish in 2003-04 before joining Stiverson’s staff for the 2005-06 season.
“Coach Holbert is Doug’s right-hand man,” Cassidy said. “They were college teammates and best friends who are always on the same page, and they are why the program in my opinion has the continuity and consistency that it has. Doug and Jeff are both tough, passionate and unselfish people, and they expect the best out of their players in every single practice and game because that’s the standard they hold themselves to. No one is going to outwork those two.
“It says a lot about Jeff that he gave up being a head coach to come over and be on Doug’s stuff. I can testify to that being an itch that never leaves a coach once they become a head coach. Doug and Jeff are on the same page about everything. Jeff is vocal in practice, and they can work on correcting different things at the same time if they need to.”
Blake was a senior during the 2005-06 season when Holbert joined the staff and later served as an assistant during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons alongside Stiverson and Holbert.
“Jeff is a passionate guy who has a tremendous knowledge of the game of basketball,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an accident that Logan Elm basketball reached a new level of success when he got here, because Doug and Jeff work so well together, especially with making adjustments on the fly during a game or breaking down something that needs to be addressed from watching film or talking after a game and addressing it in the next practice.
“The passion, friendship and the accountability that Doug and Jeff have to each other is hard to explain, but they are one of the best coaching tandems in the state of Ohio, and Logan Elm has been fortunate to have them together for so long.”
Reaching new heights
Logan Elm reached its first district final under Stiverson in 2005, losing a 62-59 classic to future Xavier star Dante Jackson and McClain before 10,000 people inside the Convo, the largest crowd to attend a sporting event in the building that academic year, including all Ohio University contests.
The Braves lost a talented senior class that included Evans and Kyle Jones to graduation but returned to Basketball :30 once again in 2006 behind the play of Blake and fellow seniors Kyle Reichelderfer, Jamie Morris, Cody Leist and Tyler Congrove.
They avenged two prior season-ending losses to McClain with a 53-43 win in the district semifinal and then routed MSL rival Fairfield Union 55-28 to win a district final.
Stiverson’s teams have always embraced a defense-first mentality, relying on a strong man-to-man scheme that Blake said his team used to take the program to heights it had not reached since John F. Kennedy was in the Oval Office.
“I think Kyle, Cody and Jamie would agree with me that the 2004-05 team was much more talented than we were and had a lot more firepower than what we had,” he said. “We collectively embraced being a strong defensive team, because that’s obviously a hallmark of Coach Stiverson’s program, and our goal going into games was holding a player at least five-to-six points below what he typically averaged.
“Our team really embraced the roles that each individual had and that collectively made us a much better basketball team than we were when you looked at our individual parts. Our crowning achievement was that district tournament, finally beating Dante and McClain after they had ended our two previous seasons and then playing one of our best games we ever played defensively and shutting down Fairfield Union to 28 points in the district final.”
Logan Elm was back in a district final for the third time in four seasons in 2008, taking on Chillicothe in a proverbial David versus Goliath matchup. The Cavaliers went on to win the Division II state championship with three players off the team eventually going on to play Division I athletics.
The Braves led for most of the game, but ultimately were not able to contain 6-foot-7 forward Ray Chambers in a 49-48 loss.
To put the loss in perspective, Chillicothe demolished its four other opponents in sectional, district and regional tournament play by an average of nearly 32 points in qualifying for the state tournament.
“One of the tenets of Coach Stiverson’s program over the years has been how the team has dealt with adversity and comes back stronger because of it,” Blake said. “I know that was the case for us in 2006 coming off the 2005 loss in the district final to McClain and, while I wasn’t on those teams, I know Coach Stiverson has always felt like that 2008 team was the springboard for what they did the next couple of seasons.”
Logan Elm reached new heights again in 2008-09, defeating Chillicothe 50-42 in a regional semifinal and then topping Cambridge 53-39 to become the first Pickaway County boys basketball team to qualify for the state tournament since 1945.
Tim Congrove was a senior on the 2008-09 team and one of two 1,000-point career scorers on a roster that included names like Brandon Amann, Logan Hauserman, Tyler Prichard, Adam Blake, Chad Holbrook and Cory Whaley.
“While we had a lot of talent, I feel like one of the things that set our group apart were the intangibles that Coach Stiverson instilled within us,” he said. “Coach taught us how to play with toughness, taught us to be disciplined, taught us to outwork our opponents, how to deal with adversity and failure, and taught us how to play for each other. Those are things that didn’t just help me personally from an athletic standpoint, but even more so in everyday life, with my family, and within my career.
“We had so many memorable games throughout my career, including obviously playing in the Schottenstein Center in the Final Four, but when I really think back to why I enjoyed playing for Coach Stiverson, I think about the open gyms and competing against the coaches, competing with my teammates in practice, team meals at each other’s houses and those sort of things.”
Congrove went on to discuss the environment that his teammates and he played in during the run to the Final Four and how they played for more than themselves.
“That is the type of environment and community that Coach Stiverson built that I think has made his program so successful, and that type of culture breeds success,” he said. “Our group that played at the Schott was not just playing for the 15 guys on that roster, but for the Logan Elm players that were there before us, our families and the community. Coach Stiverson built that connection and mindset within us.”
Logan Elm repeated as MSL and district champions in 2009-10, despite losing a talented senior class from the state tournament team that included Congrove (1,287 points) and Amann (1,119 points) to graduation. Those Braves were led by the play of Adam Blake, Hauserman, Prichard and Whaley.
The Braves have continued to produce championships since then, winning the district again in 2013-14 and 2019-20 and league championships in 2013-14, 2015-16 and 2020-21, with names such as Dillon Young, Logan Thompson, Trent Congrove, Casey Tyler, Ridge Young, Isaac Ward, Gabe Chalfin, Jason Sailor, Jeremy Wietelmann and many more entering program lore.
A sturdy Elm
Logan Elm is named for the 65-foot elm tree on the Pickaway Plains that Mingo Chief Logan spoke under in 1774, when he gave a passionate speech about Native American relations with the European settlers that had come to populate the American colonies of Great Britain.
The coaching elm tree that Stiverson planted has branched out and produced a number of coaches within and outside the program that will last for years to come.
Cassidy joined the coaching staff for the 2005-06 season and remembers a moment with Stiverson from the 2006-07 season-opener against Olentangy in the Zane Trace Tip-Off Classic.
“I was still a couple of years removed from playing myself, and we weren’t playing that well against Olentangy. I just sat there at the end of the bench and didn’t say a word,” said an emotional Cassidy. “Coach Stiverson came down to my end of the bench in the third quarter, knelt down beside me and said, ‘Cass, what do you think we should do’. I said we should extend our defense and use a particular press, and that’s what we did.
“That moment gave me so much confidence in myself and it was one of the best experiences in my life getting to coach with Doug and Jeff for six seasons, getting to coach in the Convo repeatedly and in the Schott for the state tournament.”
Cassidy discussed how much of an impact that Stiverson had on his coaching when he eventually took over the Circleville Tigers.
“I modeled the program that I ran from what Doug did at Logan Elm, stressing all of those important values and trying to build a family culture,” he said. “The defense we ran at Circleville was the defense we ran at Logan Elm and, while I made a few changes offensively, the basic concept of four out and one in was what we did at Circleville.”
Congrove has been the head coach for the past six seasons at Hillard Davidson. He was named 2019 Division I Central District Coach of the Year when he led the Wildcats to a district runner-up finish.
“As a current head coach, I try to take bits and pieces of the things I learned and things I felt worked well from all my previous coaches,” Congrove said. “I think the piece that sticks out to me about Coach Stiverson that I try to duplicate within my program is the way he builds strong relationships with his players. I know Coach Stiverson was always there for me if I needed anything and I can still reach out to him to this day if I need advice or help with anything.
“Thinking about Coach Stiverson retiring honestly makes me sad. Coach Stiverson is easily the best coach that I have ever played for. He built my confidence and taught me so much. I am so grateful for the time I got to spend playing for and learning from Coach Stiverson. While I’m sad that the Logan Elm community isn’t going to see Coach Stiverson on the sideline any longer, I am happy for coach and hope he knows how appreciative I am and how lucky I feel that I got to play for the guy that put Logan Elm basketball on the map.”
Adam Blake is an assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of North Georgia, an NCAA Division II institution, and credits Stiverson for inspiring him to go into coaching.
“Coach Stiverson is the reason I chose to pursue a career in coaching,” he said. “Coach helped shape my future because of the influence he had on my life as a player and person.
“Coach had a way of preparing our teams for the standard he set by consistently providing guidance and accountability to achieve those goals. There wasn’t a single day he let that slip. Logan Elm basketball is toughness, unselfishness, family, love, sacrifice and hard work. Logan Elm basketball is Doug Stiverson.”