Cottage Grove High School will have a new boys basketball coach next season. The Lions are bringing in Nick Finley who in the last two seasons coached Ninilchik School in Ninilchik, Alaska to back-to-back state championships at the 1A level.
“It was clear to us that this was the guy that could lead our kids,” said Cottage Grove High School Athletic Director Gary Roberts. “The things he talked about in terms of a basketball were great but the other things he talked about in terms of expectations of kids and academics and behavioral expectations for the kids off the court in the classroom and in the community. Those are the important things that are going to help kids become successful young adults.”
Finley graduated from Creswell High School in 2004 where he was on the state championship team. After high school he then played basketball at Chemekta Community College and then at Eastern Oregon University. After graduating from Eastern Oregon in 2010 he moved to Alaska where he began as an assistant coach and then in 2011 became the head coach for Ninilchik.
“It’s going to be exciting to be back home,” said Finley. “I’m just dying to meet all the guys and get to know the community. I’m also just super excited for the opportunity to go back to the area where I grew up and coach at a program like Cottage Grove.”
At Ninilchik High School, the school had just 42 students last year and 16 boys. Eight of those boys were on Finley’s basketball team. Outside of Ninilchik’s star Austin White who is 6-7 and was named state player of the year by Gatorade, Finley praised his team not for being natural basketball players but for their hard work.
“All you need to do at a small school at this level is have kids that are committed and a coach that is committed and if they put in that extra work they will be successful. That’s the bottom line,” said Finley.
From players stopping their star player White to take pictures with him because he was so tall to flying to villages in the middle of nowhere to play a game late at night, Finley noted that while excited to be in Oregon, he is going to miss coaching in Alaska and the basketball culture in the state.
One memory from his time at Ninilchik is early on in his career when the team played in a tournament in a remote village. They were staying the night at a school and their last game, which had been packed with fans, had just finished.
“I look out the window and I see all these snow machines, you guys call them snowmobiles down there, just zipping,” said Finley. “Just hundreds of them into the woods and they are driving back to their villages… driving 50 miles and it is 12 o’clock at night. It’s incredible.”
Finley will be replacing Donn Pollard who started his coaching career at Cottage Grove in 1981. Pollard coached from 1981-2000, stopped when he became principal, was assistant for his son, Bart, and then head coach since 2011.