Zach West had to admit, he didn’t see it coming.
When coach Kevin Schnable recently told the Oswego senior and his basketball teammates on the first day of summer camp he would not be returning to lead them because he was taking over as principal of an elementary school in nearby District 204, the Panthers’ team leader was caught off guard.
“There was a lot of surprise because he always wants to get back to state,” West said. “[Schnable] always put us first before anything, and to see him walk away is kind of shocking.”
West averaged 19.4 points as a junior and led a young Panthers’ team that featured three sophomores and one freshman starter last winter to a 12-16 record in Schnable’s 15th season leading his alma mater. It concluded a six-year run in which Oswego had a .704 winning percentage (126-53).
The players remember the 2009 team’s run to Peoria and a second-place finish in Class 3A.
“[Schnable] is always about OPB [Oswego Panther basketball], but he told us it was a family choice and that he wants to spend time with his kids,” West said. “So good for him. He’s where he wants to go [career-wise] and I think that’s a great choice by him.”
The players weren’t alone. Long-time assistants Matt Borrowman and Jim Bagley and Athletic Director Darren Howard weren’t expecting Schnable’s news.
“Obviously, I was surprised initially,” Howard said. “It was a good decision for his family and career. [Schnable] is an outstanding person and will thrive in his new role. He brings years of character-building skills and leadership that will only benefit his new staff and the students they serve.”
Once a Panther, Always a Panther was the mantra Schnable, the school’s winningest coach, stressed to his players.
“I know that will never change,” Howard said. “I expect he will be the No. 1 Panther fan moving forward. ... His departure clearly will leave a big void that needs to be filled.”
It’s one Howard hopes to hire quickly.
He said he is “looking to fill the position internally” and hopes to have a successor named by June 15. In the meantime, Borrowman is running the summer program, which included appearances the past two weekends in shootouts at Riverside-Brookfield and Oswego East. On Sunday, the team played in another shootout at the University of Illinois-Chicago, meeting Leo and Simeon.
It’s clear who the favorite is among the players. West and junior Steven Frank indicated they both thought Borrowman would be a good choice.
“They were both really tight and always on the same page,” West said of Schnable and Borrowman. “There wouldn’t be too much change, and we have good faith in him.”
Borrowman, who has been with the program the past 14 years and last 10 as a varsity assistant, has applied for the job.
“I made it clear from the get-go I wanted to be Kevin’s replacement,” he said.
Bagley, a retired air traffic controller who substitute teaches at the high school and one of the middle schools, has been with the program for 13 years. He, too, endorsed Borrowman.
“I think he’s the most ‘head coach ready’ assistant coach in the state,” Bagley said.