With a giant portion of last year’s Hermiston boys’ basketball team now gone and graduated, plenty of unfamiliar faces showed up to the tryouts when the team broke its offseason this week. Many of those faces were dribbling basketballs and hoping to land a spot on the varsity roster, but maybe the most noticeable new arrival was the man directing the traffic with a whistle dangling around his neck.
Head coach Adam Strom was hired this spring to fill the hole left by coach Larry Usher, who left the program to pursue other options. Strom came to Hermiston from Wapato, Wash. — the same place Usher coached before he became a Bulldog. Strom said he and Usher were friends who stayed in touch after Usher left for Oregon and the former Hermiston coach tipped Strom off to the opening this year and encouraged him to apply.
“Speaking to one of my mentors, (Usher) said if there’s an opening with an interview process, you can never do too much of that as practice,” said Strom, who is also employed at the school along with his wife. “One thing led to another and here I am.”
The two coaches share some similarities in style, which should make the transition period fairly smooth for the coach and his players, Strom said. Junior Alex Ortiz noticed that as well during the first week of team practices.
Both coaches are defensive-minded leaders, Ortiz said, but Strom is taking that to a whole new level. A shut-down defense is the first priority that Strom wants to enact.
“Last season, we focused on defense too, but we tried to score points to go with that,” said Ortiz, the team’s only returning varsity starter. “This year, we’ve got to stop points to get points. We’re not doing our job if we let them score and then we score. We have to stop them from scoring altogether.”
That’s a good way to explain the philosophy, Strom said. He wants such defensive pressure that all the offense can see is organized chaos.
“I want lots of scrambling around the net, but we’re going to know what we’re doing because we’ll be well practiced,” he said.
Despite the similar styles, the transition for any new coach is never easy, Strom said. There are plenty of speed bumps as he’ll be learning with the team as they go along. Both sides will take some time familiarizing themselves with the other.
The first week is always difficult when trying to weed out players — separating the varsity talent from the junior varsity team — but that task becomes more tedious when a coach has little background from which to draw. A third of the 66 players that tried out for the team this season had to be cut during the first week for the squad to reach its required roster, and it takes a careful eye to make sure skills aren’t overlooked, Strom said.
But coming in as a fresh coach has its benefits as well. Each player is free to start from the beginning, a clean slate. The whole lot must prove their keep.
“We still have no practice gear or nothing,” Strom said. “They’ve got to earn practice gear, just to emphasize that no matter where you played before, everybody’s still trying out for a position. No spots guaranteed.”
Strom will look to carry some of his strong background of winning — two league and district titles and four state tournament appearances in Wapato — over to this year’s Bulldog team. Hermiston won a Columbia River Conference championship last season with an 11-1 record in league play and finished 18-8 overall.
While coaching at Wapato High, a Class 2A school in Washington just south of Yakima, Strom compiled a 90-58 record during his six-year tenure.