Coaching trees branch out. It’s inevitable.
Younger coaches want to move up, older coaches want to move out.
One particular group that started out together in a totally different iteration 18 years ago takes on a new chapter Monday night at Foothill.
In 1999, A.J. Shearon and Wes Davis were freshmen on Liberty's first frosh/soph team as the school opened that summer.
Andy Hicks, who found out a decade earlier at Highland that being a varsity head coach was not for him and his family, took over the lower-level program at the newest campus in the Northwest region of Bakersfield.
That year Andy’s son, Jeff, was a 10-year-old hanging around practices, sitting on the bench during games while soaking up the knowledge his father was providing for young players.
Fast forward to Monday. While Shearon will be out-of-town in his current role as assistant coach for Fresno Pacific, Davis, the head coach at Foothill, will host Liberty, with Jeff Hicks as the head coach. Jeff's father, Andy, is an assistant with the Patriots.
The game tips off at 6:30 p.m.
This is the third meeting between the two friends since Hicks took over the Liberty program in the spring of 2016.
“It’s a lot of fun. Coach Wes is one of my biggest mentors,” Jeff Hicks said. “He’s like family to me. I can’t say enough for my respect to him. He has really turned around the program at Foothill. I expected nothing less of him because he is that good of a guy.”
Shearon still peaks his head in from time to time when the Sunbirds are on an off night to check out how his friends are doing.
“Even though our ages and roles vary, we view each other as peers,” Shearon said. “It’s really cool that we have all gone separate ways and still come back to that bond. I’ve known Jeff most of his life and I’ve known Wes over half my life. Now we just bounce things off each other and get to hang out.”
It’s also a marquee non-league game, as Davis indicated that University of Memphis assistant coach Saul Smith — the son of Tigers head coach Tubby Smith — will be in attendance to see Foothill junior forward Edward Turner. That will also allow Smith to get a glimpse at Liberty standout junior guards Isaiah Hill and Kadar Waller.
In his role as assistant coach to his son, Andy Hicks sometimes takes a seat as proud mentor. Andy coached Jeff at the JV or varsity levels all four years at Liberty.
The same could be said for Davis, who played for Andy Hicks as a high school standout and later became an assistant coach at Liberty along with Jeff Hicks. In 2010, it was Andy Hicks' final season as head coach at Liberty, when Hicks and Shearon were both co-head coaches, Liberty beat Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial for the Central Section Division II title.
“It warms my heart. It really is a treat,” Andy Hicks said. “You have your own family, but with players, you spend so much time with them that they become family. It’s great knowing that they want to give back to the next generation.”
All three coaches knew at a young age they wanted to get into the coaching ranks.
“Wes has always been a leader forever, even on the freshman team when we were 14,” Shearon said. “The coaching aspect has become natural for him. Jeff was a very high-I.Q.-type player. So as young coaches, you knew they were going to be great.”
Even though Monday's game is a non-league contest, there are nerves involved for both coaches.
“The ultimate goal as a lower-level coach is one day you get your own program,” Jeff Hicks said. “But I never thought I would be coaching against him.
"Before any game, I get jitters, but this one is special. Especially in front of your mentor, to show that you have done well for yourself.”