When Al DeMott took the Sandusky girls basketball coaching job in 1979, he wasn’t planning on it being a long-term gig.
A few losing seasons motivated him to turn the program around, however – and nearly 40 years later he’s not only succeeded in doing so, he’s become one of the most successful coaches in state history.
DeMott hit the 700-win mark on Dec. 5, joining Detroit Country Day’s Frank Orlando as the only girls basketball coaches in Michigan to reach the milestone.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I know I’ve been blessed,” DeMott said. “I’ve had a lot of good kids and parents and assistant coaches who have been part of it. I’ve been blessed with great kids that work hard, and want to work hard.”
DeMott is 703-187 in his time at Sandusky, with 19 league titles, 25 District titles, seven Regional titles and one MHSAA Finals runner-up finish (1999). He’s also had the joy of coaching his three daughters, Marissa, Allison and Desiree.
“They have all actually helped me in my program,” he said of his daughters. “It’s been a lot of fun. I planned on getting out a few years ago, but I’m still having a lot of fun. I’ve got kids that are so fun to work with, and it’s hard to walk away from that. Thank God my wife has always been supporting me, too.”
It did take about five years for him to get things moving in that positive direction, though.
“We got a piece of the league title for the first time in 1984, then in 1985 we upset Flint Academy in the Regional,” he said. “That really sparked these younger kids, and we had pretty good success ever since.”
Starting a youth program in the early 1980s was a key cog in the turnaround, but also a sign of Sandusky and DeMott adjusting to the changing climate of girls basketball at the time.
“When I started, the level of play compared to what it is now is night and day,” he said. “Girls basketball has come a long way. Nobody did anything in the summer, but now they’re as active as the boys, or more active.”
As the game has changed, DeMott has, too. He’s won games with teams that lit it up from outside, he’s won games with teams that pounded the ball down low, and most recently, he’s won games with suffocating defense.
“Year by year it can change,” he said. “Depending on the personnel.”
What doesn’t change is DeMott’s commitment to the game and his team.
“There are so many secrets to his success,” Sandusky senior Haley Nelson said. “But he prepares us so well. He does his research. We know the other team’s plays just as well as they know them sometimes. He’s always scouting and he watches so much tape.”
Nelson is a four-year player for DeMott, and recently committed to continue her career at Saginaw Valley State University. She said playing for DeMott is something players in Sandusky look forward to from a young age.
“Coach DeMott is known by everyone in Sandusky,” she said. “If you say, ‘Al DeMott,’ everyone knows who he is. If you go other places, everyone knows who Al DeMott is. He’s very well respected.”
It’s partly because DeMott has coached so many members of the community, including those who eventually watched their daughters play for their former coach.
“I personally think it’s pretty awesome,” said Nelson – whose mother didn’t play for DeMott, but her older sister Keegan did. “If you could talk to your mom about your coach and it would be the exact same coach, that would be pretty awesome.”
Although, Nelson said, she’s heard he’s not exactly the same as he was back in the day.
“I hear back in the day he was a screamer,” Nelson said. “Clearly, he’s not like that anymore. He’s the calmest coach in America.”
This season’s Sandusky team is 7-1, and DeMott thinks it has potential to finish strong, despite a recent injury to a key player.
No matter how the rest of the winter goes, however, this year’s team will always be able to look back on the 53-26 win against Unionville-Sebewaing that put its coach into elite company.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Nelson said. “I felt like we just needed to do it for him, because he’s done so much for us.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTO: Sandusky girls basketball coach Al DeMott stands with his team as they celebrate his 700th career win last month. (Photo courtesy of the Sandusky girls basketball program.)