From a young age, Tyler Szczepanski knew he wanted to be a high school basketball coach.
He became one when he still attended Fenton High School.
“When I was in high school, I started coaching the fifth- and sixth-graders at St. John,” Szczepanski said.
But this fall he’s going to get his chance to be a head varsity boys basketball coach for the first time. Szczepanski will be the new coach at Lake Fenton High School.
“All along I knew I wanted to be a basketball coach,” Szczepanski said. “I am excited to have this opportunity.”
Szczepanski replaces Josh Fox who had the position for just one season. He had to leave the position due to the family relocating.
“Tyler was one of our finalists for the job last year and between me and the committee we felt we couldn’t go wrong with him or coach Fox (last year),” Lake Fenton athletic director Brad LaRowe said. “Tyler reached out to me so we brought him back for another interview this time and he wooed the committee with his interview. I felt if we passed on him this time, it would be a mistake. We are happy to hire him.”
Szczepanski is only 28, but he has plenty of coaching experience, starting with his days at St. John. When he graduated from Fenton High School, not much time passed before he could be seen on the Fenton varsity basketball bench as an assistant for Tim Olszewski, starting with the 2011-12 season. Szczepanski was at Fenton until Olszewski left to take the varsity girls basketball position at Howell after the 2014-15 season. Szczepanski made the move to Howell with Olszewski and was an assistant varsity coach as well as a freshman or JV coach during his time at Howell. He’d also coach an AAU basketball team during the spring. While at Fenton he also coached the eighth-grade boys basketball team. He also coaches boys and girls golf at Howell.
“I definitely feel I have a ton of experience,” Szczepanski said. “I feel like I had really good role models. I look at guys like (Fenton varsity boys and girls soccer coach) Matt Sullivan and Tim Olszewski and I realize I had really good coaches growing up. They made a big impact. During my senior year I realized this was something I definitely wanted to do. They meant a lot to me and helped me grow up through my young adult life at the high school. They were tremendous role models and I felt I wanted to make the same impact on the youth as they did for me.”
“I am impressed with his experience,” LaRowe said. “He’s been at it for so long and he’s still so young. His passion for the game comes out. He has a good idea of how he wants a program to be run.”
The Blue Devils posted a 6-15 record with a young team during Fox’s one season at the helm. However, the record doesn’t reflect how competitive the squad was in most games during the 2019-20 season. The squad lost its first three games of the season by a combined nine points, with one of those losses coming in an 84-80 overtime loss against Swartz Creek.
The Blue Devils don’t have an outstanding boys basketball tradition, but aren’t that far removed from their greatest era in the school’s history. During the 2016-17 school year, the Blue Devils went 20-6, and advanced all the way to the Division 2 state quarterfinals before losing to Ludington 69-43.
“I talked to Brad and some other guys in the athletic program and they talk highly about our younger kids. Three sophomores made an impact on the varsity team last year. They were competitive and right there in a lot of games The first step is being competitive and learning how to close out those close games. Assuming we have a season, what we want to teach them is you have to play hard for all 32 minutes. If you do that you will walk off the court knowing you gave it your best effort and will be entering the next day knowing you are doing your best. That’s the important thing.”
Szczepanski has worked with some of the kids this summer during some outdoor sessions while following the COVID-19 regulations established by the MHSAA.
“They are hard workers,” Szczepanski said. “My first impression was I’m very excited about not just about now but what the future holds. This group will model what the program will become and that comes down to hard work and playing together. Those are the two main things we must have.”