Life on the fringes of 30 recently dealt J.R. Angle a harsh lesson in reality.
In March, players on the boys high school team in Iowa that Angle helps coach let it be known that the 2004 Indiana All-Star no longer possessed the hops necessary to dunk a basketball.
Attired in shirt, khaki shorts and running shoes, Angle without loosening up grabbed a ball and gave it a go.
What actually transpired remains up for debate.
Angle categorizes the effort as a dunk, albeit it not a convincing one — the kind where his right hand pushed the ball more left than straight down, yet clutched enough rim to hush some doubters.
Regardless, Angle, who as a 6-foot-7 guard/forward produced 1,689 points at Indian Creek High School from 2000-04, had officially been introduced to adulthood.
And he’s just fine with that.
Angle has been an Iowa resident since August 2004. He is newly married and coaching the sport he so dearly loves at Valley High School in West Des Moines, a program led by Jeff Horner, his former University of Iowa teammate.
“It’s great. Jeff is kind of like the brother I never had and, like myself, his father was his high school basketball coach,” said Angle, whose father, Larry, was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010 after coaching stops at Rushville, Carmel, Tipton, Greenfield-Central and Indian Creek.
“We like to run a fast-paced offense here, and Jeff is very demanding on the kids,” Angle said. “But he’s very fair.”
There are segments of Angle’s existence that have been demanding and very unfair.
Yet through it all, Johnson County’s boys career scoring leader among public schools — Greenwood Christian Academy product Kyle Stidom netted 2,059 points from 2008-2012 — maintains an upbeat attitude assured to open more doors than it closes.
The final Valentine’s Day of the 1980s represents a gut-wrenching fork in the road for Angle’s family. One it continues to deal with today.
Larry was the head coach at Tipton High School in February 1989. He and his wife, Kathy, were parents of two young children, Allyson, 8, and J.R., who was a month shy of his fourth birthday.
Kathy had dropped J.R. off at child care and was doing her best to navigate an ice-covered bridge when their car was T-boned by a pick-up truck.
Kathy survived the crash. Allyson, who was in the passenger seat, wasn’t so fortunate.
“It was a tough time. J.R. would follow her around everywhere,” said Larry, 70, who is retired from coaching and living in Greenfield. “She was a wonderful girl. Undoubtedly, they still would be close today.”
With a laugh, he added, “She would’ve bossed him around a little bit, that’s for sure.”
J.R. Angle’s memories of the older sister taken away so young and in such an abrupt manner are vague. The tragedy’s emotional impact, however, is very much part of the Angle family dynamic today.
“It changed me in the way that for the longest time I didn’t want to be away from my parents. Even today they’re very protective of me,” Angle said. “I probably talk to them every day for about 15 to 20 minutes, which is mostly talking basketball with my dad.”
For Larry, coaching served as a much-needed diversion, his post-Tipton stops at Greenfield-Central and Indian Creek adding to a resume that features 375 career victories.
The final four seasons would be like none other. They would be the most rewarding and at times the most trying.
Finally, father would be coaching son.
Playing for dad
Those who played basketball for Larry Angle won’t compare it to a walk in the park beneath cloudless skies.
Tougher than a $2 rib-eye, Angle was at times opinionated and loud — sometimes to the detriment of his reputation — at each of his five coaching stops.
He had both supporters and detractors. Few straddled the fence then or do so today.
Angle’s final season at Greenfield-Central in 1994-95 produced a 13-9 record. He had sat out five seasons before taking the Indian Creek job, where he would bring his then-6-4 freshman gym rat of a son with him.
“Just like any father-son coaching relationship, it’s tough,” J.R. Angle said. “They expect more out of you because you’re blood. There were some quiet rides home where I wasn’t talking, but he was. My dad is an old-school coach. Moving to Indian Creek was an adjustment for the first month, but I enjoyed my time there.
“When I was 15 and 16 years old, you have that know-it-all attitude, but I wanted it for myself and I wanted it for my family.”
The it he refers to is the opportunity to play college basketball at the NCAA Division I level.
Even though Indian Creek posted a 36-52 record during the Angles’ four years, it provided J.R. the opportunity to grow both as a person and player at the University of Iowa.
“J.R. was a pleasure to coach. He had been playing basketball a long time, since first grade or kindergarten,” Larry Angle said. “If you can play, you play, and if you can’t, you don’t. But from a coach’s standpoint, it helps if you can.”
Angle would go on to play three seasons under former Hawkeyes coach Steve Alford, and his final two for Todd Lickliter, following Alford’s 2007 departure to coach at the University of New Mexico.
Angle red-shirted in 2005-06 as his father battled prostate cancer.
Not a star by any description at the next level, Angle, who scored a total of 117 points in a Hawkeyes uniform, regrets none of it.
“It had every emotion wrapped up in it, but overall it was all very positive,” Angel said. “I got to travel the world. Maui, the Virgin Islands, South Padre Island, Las Vegas. One of my favorite trips was to The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. It was just a real neat place.
“To be able to graduate from a Big Ten university without debt to pay, I’m very blessed.”
A coach himself
The 2013-14 season had been moving along at an unspectacular pace for Valley High School, when all of a sudden the Tigers got hot at the right time.
Valley carried newfound momentum into the postseason, where it would advance all the way to the Class 4A (big school) state championship game, losing 57-45 to Iowa City West inside 16,000-seat Wells-Fargo Arena in Des Moines on March 15.
It was the fourth season as assistant coach for Angle, who is employed by the school system as a teaching associate at Valley High School.
Having now been an Iowa resident for about one-third of his life, Angle gets caught up in its state tournament the way he once did Indiana’s.
There is, however, one challenge he faces annually that his dad never contended with: Iowa doesn’t allow players to be cut during the preseason, or at any point during the season.
The Valley sophomore squad Angle coached this past season was a roster of 33, only 15 of whom are permitted to dress for games. Horner’s varsity Tigers included even more.
To Angle, it only adds to the state’s unique charm.
“Everyone thinks Iowa is just a bunch of farmers. Iowa people are great. They love their college sports, and I love it here,” Angle said. “But I do miss Indiana, and pretty soon my wife and I are going to apply for jobs in the Indianapolis area.”
Angle would love to someday teach and coach basketball in his home state. He said his wife, Valerie, an Iowa native who works in marketing, loves it here every time the couple visits.
Should Angle someday find himself tempted to muzzle potential doubters by retracing his dunking steps on Hoosier soil, a memorable line from his favorite movie might be worth mulling over:
“I think you’ll find these exact same measurements in our gym back in Hickory.”
WHAT’S HIS ANGLE?
Name: J.R. Angle
Family: Wife, Valerie
Resides: West Des Moines, Iowa
High school: Indian Creek (2004)
College: University of Iowa (2009)
Major: Health and sports studies
Favorite TV show: “Modern Family”
Favorite food: Boneless buffalo wings
Favorite movie: “Hoosiers”
Favorite athlete: Scottie Pippen