Rongstad chasing his coaching dreams

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Former Middleton standout Derek Rongstad is now a graduate assistant for Alabama’s men’s basketball team./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Derek Rongstad would sit in his living room as an elementary student. He’d flip to whatever basketball game was on, and within minutes he’d pretend to be coaching the teams that were competing.

“My parents would probably say I’ve been planning on coaching basketball since I was in elementary school,” said Rongstad, a 2014 MHS graduate and one of the finest players in school history.

Pretty soon, Rongstad just might find himself running his own program.

Rongstad is currently a graduate assistant at the University of Alabama.

Rongstad — who’s affectionately known as “Doc” — majored in Economics and recently earned his MBA (Masters of Business Administration). Even as Rongstad pursued those degrees, though, he knew he might eventually choose a different path.

“I did some internships and looked at different career options in college, but nothing could ever bring the same excitement that basketball brings me,” Rongstad said.

Those that know Rongstad best aren't surprised by his decision to chase his dream of coaching.

“You see traits in players early on that lend themselves to the possibility of coaching,” said Middleton coach Kevin Bavery. “As an Economics major I always joked with him that he was way too smart to coach! The most important trait is simply a genuine love for the game, and for Doc that is innate.

“I got him involved right after he graduated by helping us out in the summer when it fit in his schedule. The best combination was watching him and his dad, Kurt, coach our varsity together for our annual summer tournament. They are both naturals and so great with kids.

“And Doc was a highly-regarded camp coach for us for several summers as well, starting before he graduated high school. The kids loved his enthusiasm and passion. He made it fun, but even in those camp settings he was competitive with other coaches in drills and games with his team!”

Rongstad is one of the top players in school history.

Rongstad was a unanimous first-team all-Big Eight Conference selection as a senior when he led Middleton with 14.8 points per game. He also led the Cardinals in assists (2.5 per game) and steals (1.5) and was second on the team in rebounding (4.3).

Rongstad was also named first-team all-Big Eight as a junior when he averaged a team-high 16.4 points per game.

Rongstad was named Middleton’s Most Valuable Player on two occasions and averaged 13.1 points per game during his career. Rongstad finished his MHS career with 892 total points, which at the time were the second-most of the Bavery-era.

“We always went as ‘Doc’ went,” Bavery said. “He was an emotional player who his teammates looked up to. He was especially hard on himself and if things didn't go well he was the guy who would take responsibility and point his finger at himself. More often than not, though, things went very well for him and our team.”

Rongstad began his collegiate basketball career as a preferred walk-on at UW-Milwaukee and later played at UW-Whitewater.

After his senior season with the Warhawks, Rongstad told coach Pat Miller that he’d like to eventually become a coach. Alabama head coach Nate Oats was once a graduate assistant at Whitewater and Miller immediately reached out to him.

Oats liked what Rongstad had to offer, hired him immediately, and the former Middleton standout packed his bags for Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Today, Rongstad is responsible for working out players, film work and countless other duties inside the Crimson Tide program.

“The most enjoyable part of being a graduate assistant is working out the players,” Rongstad said. “I always loved working on my game when I played and watching one of the players execute something I worked on with him with gives me that same great feeling of accomplishment I used to get from making a good play myself. 

“There’s also a good amount of film work that the coaches will give us to break down, as well as scouting opponents and making videos for recruits. I enjoy almost all of the work that I do, but the hours can get long and sporadic at times. Not being able to come home over Thanksgiving and only a couple of days home around Christmas are not ideal, but certainly worth it to have a job that I enjoy going to every day.”

Rongstad, who was also a standout wide receiver and kicker for Middleton’s football team, believes his time at MHS helped put him on the proper course to become a coach one day.

“I was very fortunate at Middleton to learn from the coaches I had in both basketball and football,” Rongstad said. “Coach (Tim) Simon and (Jason) Pertzborn have done a fantastic job building and sustaining a great culture around Middleton football. There was a standard of hard work that they instilled in the program that is vital to be successful and something I hope to help bring to all of the teams I am a part of.

“Coach (Kevin) Bavery and (Jerry) Raffel always filled me and our teams with confidence and belief in ourselves. I think being able to bring those feelings to a team as a coach is incredibly important, and when I talk to them now they still bring me that same positive energy that helped give me the confidence to take this risk and move across the country to follow my dreams.”

Bavery has had several former players get into coaching.

Shaka Smart — who played under Bavery at Oregon High School — is the men’s basketball coach at Texas. Blaine Mueller, a former MHS assistant coach, is now the video coordinator for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Former MHS player Aaron Katsuma is the director of men's basketball operations for Colorado State University. And Matt Meinholz, another former Middleton player, is an assistant coach at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

“I see Doc in all of those people,” Bavery said of Rongstad. “And the one commonality that they all begin with is a deep rooted and genuine love of the game, a passion, and a commitment.

“Doc has all of those at a very high level. Then add in a never-ending thirst for knowledge, understanding you can never know it all, and you have what it takes. It’s not an easy road, but he has what it takes to end up wherever he wants to go in this game.”

Rongstad isn't sure what level he wants to coach at one day. But he’s entirely certain that coaching will be the right career for him.

“At this point in my career I am completely open to any opportunity that allows me to continue working in basketball,” Rongstad said. “It makes me excited and nervous to think of where I might be 10 years from now.”

 

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