Back home again in Indiana after a decade’s absence, J.R. Angle couldn’t be happier.
A highly recruited all-state performer at Indian Creek High School, the 6-foot-7 guard went on to play for Steve Alford and Todd Lickliter at the University of Iowa. Angle remained in Iowa after graduation to coach high school hoops.
Indiana and his family, however, were always close to his thoughts.
Recently married, Angle decided it was finally time to return to his Hoosier roots. Now a teacher and boys basketball varsity assistant and freshman coach at Greenfield-Central, Angle is enjoying spending time with his parents again. Larry Angle, J.R.’s dad and fellow basketball junkie, is a former Greenfield head coach and Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.
Story continues below gallery
J.R. sat recently down with the Greenfield Daily Reporter, a sister newspaper of the Daily Journal, to talk about his return, his dad and Iowa.
You graduated as Johnson County’s all-time leading scorer. Have you had a chance to visit any of the gyms you lit up while playing for Indian Creek?
Yeah, I had a buddy in town from Chicago, and we went to Morristown (Jan. 10) to scout Triton Central in the Shelby County Tournament. He had never been to a high school basketball game, and I was trying to tell him what the atmosphere is and how it’s a little different in Indiana. And as soon as he walked in, you could see his eyes get real big, and he couldn’t believe the school spirit, and people standing up the whole game and the whole town coming to the game.
It was a pretty cool sight. It hadn’t changed much since I played.
Is that part of the reason you returned to Indiana, the high school basketball tradition?
I’ve been gone for 10 years. I moved from Iowa City after graduation over to Des Moines to coach with my best friend and former teammate, Jeff Horner, at West Des Moines Valley High School. We were the largest high school in the state of Iowa. We were state runner-up last year in 4A.
But I knew it was time. My wife (Valerie) and I got married (in October 2013), and I knew at some point I was going to have to make this move home and help contribute with the family. And we have about 500 acres in Rush County, so I’m starting to learn the family farming business. I’m an only child, and I knew I needed to get home and help my family with other things.
So, I called coach (Michael) Lewis after he got the (Greenfield-Central) job last summer and asked if I could be part of the system. I told him I’d do anything I could to help.
So, there’s no gap in my resume. I still wanted to keep my hand in the game somehow. I just love helping kids and coaching basketball.
We moved in late July. We’re renting a house (in Greenfield), so we’re really close. There’s nothing like coming home.
I love being home. I love being able to see family members and having my hand on the game of Indiana high school basketball.
It seems your dad is at just about every Greenfield basketball game this season, home and on the road. That must be pretty cool for you to have him at your games again.
His spirit has been completely lifted since I’ve come home. For me and my wife to just be over on weekends, watching games, getting him out and about. He hasn’t been around high school basketball for a long time. He’s a Hall of Fame coach, so wherever he goes, everybody comes up and speaks to him.
So, I didn’t think I had a choice on being a basketball coach (smiles). It’s in my blood. I had to keep the tradition going, hopefully.
As a coach, what do you focus on most?
The biggest thing I think is trying to teach them life lessons through basketball. From my father, I learned teamwork, unselfishness, being on time. All that just develops into being a better husband, a better brother or better uncle. It’s good to see these kids learn the rules quickly and mature as quickly as they do through a sport. Any time that I can help a young man become a better person, it’s very rewarding.
How was your experience at Iowa?
I got a full-ride scholarship. I couldn’t ask for any more. I got to play in one of the greatest basketball conferences in the country. Being able to play at Iowa, I gained so many new relationships. I gained probably 20 close friends that I played with that I stay in touch with on a monthly basis. And playing for a coach like coach Alford was great. He really knows the game. And his contacts throughout the coaching profession are unlimited. I try to stay up and watch all of his West Coast games that I can.
You were one of the top players in the state in high school then became a role player at Iowa. What was that transition like?
It was good for me to go through. As a coach, you need to try to relate to every kid on a team. And I can relate to the best player on the team to kid 13 on a team, because I’ve been in every spot. Just showing these kids that everybody has to buy into their role and accept their role, and being a star at their role. Not everybody’s going to be a star, but they can be a star at their role.
The biggest thing that I learned was just being a good teammate, keeping my hand on the team by being a good practice player. Or, when I got minutes, being energetic and contributing.
Would you like to be a head coach someday?
Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be at the high school level. I just want to always coach. I always want to have my hand on the game in some way every year.
Clearly, basketball is your first love.
Yes, basketball is my first love. Everybody has one thing they’re good at. And I feel like knowing the game and learning from my father, who is a Hall of Fame coach, I can bring something valuable to every team.
You’re still young, in good shape. Are you playing any competitive basketball?
No, I haven’t had much time to play. I need to. I’m growing in the wrong areas right now (laughs). I’d like to get in a league this spring.
What’s been your experience so far with the Greenfield basketball program?
I’m just glad to be a part of Greenfield basketball. I know that things are going to get turned around here. We saw that last Friday night (with a win over Mount Vernon, Jan. 9). We’re excited for the future.
It’s an interesting staff. Between head coach Michael Lewis and fellow assistants Seve Beach, Lukas Haworth and Gary Cerqua, it’s a completely new staff from last season. And you’re all relatively young.
We are probably the youngest staff in the state. But I don’t know how many head coaches in the state can say they have three assistants who have all had fathers as high school head coaches (including former longtime prep coaches Tom Beach and Tim Haworth), so it’s pretty neat.
Coaches’ kids are always wired a little differently, physically and mentally. These kids don’t have any excuses of lack of knowledge.
And coach Lewis, any chance he can get, he’s at a college practice, learning, reading. He’s an avid reader. He’s challenged me to read more. I’m more of a film guy, but I’m going to start picking up a book more. There’s nothing lost by learning from someone else, that’s for sure.
Full name: Justin Russell Angle
Teacher: Greenfield-Central, In-School Discipline Coordinator
Coach: Greenfield Central boys basketball varsity assistant and freshmen. Former coach with Valley High School, West Des Moines, Iowa.
Family: Wife, Valerie; parents, Larry and Kathy Angle
Playing career: Graduated from Indian Creek High School as Johnson County’s all-time leading scorer (1,689 points); Indiana All-Star; two-time Johnson County Player of the Year; Johnson County Male Athlete of the Year; three-time All-State selection; averaged 27.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists as a senior; spent five years at Iowa University (redshirted as a sophomore). In four seasons, played 62 games (four starts), averaged 1.9 points, 1.1 rebounds.