Michael Noszka has not been victorious in every game he’s coached, whether it be at Wilmington High School or Wabash (Ind.) High School where he came from 11 years ago.
But it hasn’t been for a lack of preparation or attention to detail.
A self-admitted “perfectionist,” Noszka coaches every game, every practice “to the finest detail.”
“There’s nothing easy about it,” said Noszka, who is 187-69 in his 11 years at WHS. “When we coach to the finest detail … another reason we are having so much success is a majority of our players are playing to the finest detail. They understand the importance of it and how success breeds with that.”
Noszka looks back to the regional semifinal game last week against Cincinnati Moeller. Known for its running game on offense, Wilmington used a tactic most thought would be in Moeller’s game plan.
“You’re going to hold the ball for three minutes against Moeller?,” Noszka said. “You better be perfect. These kids are playing to the finest detail and we will have to play like that this weekend to be successful.”
Wilmington will face Lima Senior at 5:15 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal game in the Div. I Ohio State Boys Basketball Championship tournament.
The other semifinal game pits Garfield Heights against Westerville South at 8:30 p.m.
The winners of the two games will play for the Div. I state championship 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Noszka said two major influences on his coaching life have been his father, Stanley Noszka, and long-time collegiate coach Don Meyer.
Despite not being a teacher, Stanley Noszka has coached high school basketball every year since 1977, except this season. He’s battling prostate cancer, Michael said.
“He got me into the gym at a young age,” Michael said of his father.
Michael said his father played basketball at Youngstown State and his grandfather played with the Boston Celtics before coaching at the collegiate level.
Meyer was one of Noszka’s sounding boards. He coached 38 years and won more than 900 games at the college level. He died of cancer in 2014 at the age of 69.
“If I ever had a question, he’d get back to me or get to the phone right away,” Noszka said of Meyer. “We were playing someone last year and I needed advice. I started to call him and realized he wasn’t going to be there. It was humbling for me.”
That connection between player and coach is something Noszka embraces. Noszka said he remains in contact with players who were on his teams at Wabash. In fact, Noszka said three of his former Wabash players came to watch a game at Wilmington, then the next day attended a practice before going back to Indiana.
“Those are the things you don’t forget when you are coaching,” said Noszka.
Noszka has put the Wilmington program on a high level with its recent success. Following a 5-16 record in 2010-11 and a 9-13 mark in 2012-13, the Hurricane has won 90 of the last 105 games.
But Noszka doesn’t believe he’s a better coach now than when WHS was 5-16.
“Sometimes you do your best coaching job when you are 5-16,” he said. “I’m not coaching any better this year than I did last year. It’s all about building a foundation.”
That Hurricane foundation started taking shape 11 years ago when Noszka arrived. He credits Tony Berlin, former WHS player and coach, with being one of the architects of that foundation.
“Tony Berlin is the godfather of Wilmington basketball,” Noszka said. “We put 13 names on the board prior to the tournament games, Tony’s and 12 players. This is who we play for. The foundation is anybody who has had a part in this program.
“We tell the kids this (program) is bigger than you, it’s a bigger cause. You don’t replace people. Tony will always be part of this program. A lot of us are playing harder (today) because of Tony Berlin.”
Noszka summed up the foundation thought with a simple analogy.
“Go ahead and drink the water (of Wilmington basketball) but just remember who dug the well,” Noszka said. “Right now, we’re digging the well a little deeper.”
To keep the foundation strong regardless of physical talent, Noszka believes in working hard at practice and then taking that mentality into games. He pushes his squad no matter the score.
“We have to use games to get better, but our practices are competitive,” Noszka said. “The players will tell you that. Iron sharpens iron. This is not about your feelings. This is athletics.”
Noszka has 25 goals for each game. “They are detailed,” he said.
The goals are divided into eight categories — defense, offense, rebounding, ball security, shooting percentages, free throws, special situations, hustle.
The game goals numbers change for every game. For instance, opponents points might be 50 for most games in the season, but the goal was holding Moeller to 35 in the district championship game.
“We achieved seven of our game goals against Moeller,” Noszka said. “We achieved seven of the 25 and won by three. If we achieve 15, we probably win by 30.”
Noszka said the coaches highlight 10 goals they feel are the “most important going into every game.”
“That kind of relays that perfectionist thing,” he admits.
Which isn’t always easy on the coach.
“I’m a perfectionist, it’s simply who I am,” he said again. “The older I get, I can see it. I see it in my son. When you are a perfectionist and as competitive as I am, sometimes it’s lonely.”
But with his family and team close by, Noszka continues to strive for that ever-elusive perfect practice, perfect game, perfect season … perfect ending.
“You know what we care about?” he said. “We care about 27-1. When kids are going into the game in the fourth quarter, we are still trying to achieve our game goals. There is no garbage time in a championship program. That means practice, whenever.
“You are not getting into a varsity basketball game at Wilmington High School because we are winning by 40 points. You are getting into a varsity basketball game at Wilmington High School because you earned it.
“When I put the younger kids in, I look to coach (David) Washington and ask him who earned playing time by the way they played in the JV or freshman game. My varsity players, they’ve earned their playing time. They’ve worked their tails off in practice. They’ve worked their tails off in the summer. They deserve to play. But not only do they play, but they have to play hard. That is a habit.”
So is winning or, at least coaching to win.
“Coaching is about teaching,” Noszka said. “Are kids learning what they’re supposed to be doing? A good teacher doesn’t let kids do things incorrectly. I’m a perfectionist and stuff like that drives me nuts.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.