“I’ve played basketball since I was in kindergarten,” Patrick Sullivan said last week. “I really connect with the sport. My best sport as a player is probably baseball, but I just love basketball.”
    With a quick smile and an easy manner, Patrick appears laid back. Scratch the surface, however, and there’s passion - passion for the game of basketball, teaching, and coaching.   
    A 1999 graduate of the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse, Sullivan was hired last month as the new head coach for the Spring Grove girls varsity basketball team.
    It won’t be the first time the Onalaska native has led a group of kids out onto the hardwood. He coached his way through college en route to a number of junior high, freshman, and varsity positions.
    Sullivan will also teach art in Lansing, Iowa during the coming school year. His wife Deb is ready to begin her second year of teaching second and third graders at Spring Grove Elementary. The couple’s two children, Joe (age 9) and Kendall (age 6) attended classes in Spring Grove last year, and the parents say they’re happy about relocating to Spring Grove soon where the children can see classmates.
    “I’ve coached six years of varsity basketball, four years at Brookwood High School (Wisc.) and two years at Cashton High (Wisc.),” Sullivan said. “Varsity is just so much fun, because you can build throughout the season, and tournament time is just so exciting....Whereas in JV and freshman ball, your season is over at the end of the regular schedule; with varsity, you get to see just how far you can take a group of kids. “I always love to prepare for the tournament.”
    Beginning in 1994, Sullivan coached youth basketball, baseball, and football for the Onalaska Parks & Recreation Department. He served as junior high basketball coach with the Onalaska Royal Booster Club from 1995-1998 and in 2001-02.
    The Onalaska High School freshman boys achieved the first winning season in team history under Sullivan in 1999-2000.  That year, they managed to beat the only undefeated team in the Mississippi Valley Conference (Holmen) 40-39.
    Sullivan next coached the Brookwood High boys JV program before taking the helm for the varsity boys. He coached the junior high girls at Brookwood in 2009, helping the team to a record of 13-1.
    Cashton High School came next, where Patrick found the time to start a kindergarten through second grade boys youth program while also leading the varsity boys. He then returned to coaching at Brookwood, leading the JV boys in 2012-2013 season.
    Sullivan played for John Sheldon while attending Onalaska High School. That mentor won Wisconsin state championships in 1988 and 1992, he recalled. “I was a sophomore in 1992,” Sullivan said. “I played varsity the next two years.
    Coaching on the side while attending college came next. “I’ve always really enjoyed watching kids get better,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun just helping them out.
    “I’m a big believer in the fundamentals - repetition, dribbling, shooting and passing. I’ve noticed that when you do that stuff, when you get a lot of repetitions in over time, kids get better. Maybe a kid couldn’t shoot at the start of the season, but by the end up the year, they’re shooting with much more confidence. I try to encourage kids to shoot when they’re open.
    “I also think defense is very important. I typically play man-to-man with the teams I’ve coached. I think it’s important that you have a defense where when you need to get a stop, you can get it. Try to keep their offense out of the lane and limit penetration. Don’t give up the easy shots. Make them shoot it from the outside and then clean up the rebounds.
    “For me, if a fast break is there, let’s kick it out an go with it. If it’s not there, let’s set up the offense.
    “Fundamentals means taking care of the ball. We get a lot of dribbling practice so that when you get pressured, you don’t give in to it. When you see teams that can’t handle the pressure, most of the time it’s because players are just trying to get rid of the ball. Then you see turnovers. When you are on defense, you can see when somebody doesn’t want the basketball. You can see that fear.
    “I think conditioning is important. Yes, basketball is a game of skill. You need to (be able to) dribble, and you need to be able to shoot; but it’s also a game of speed and endurance. We are not going to be tired when other teams are getting tired. We’re going to still be strong.
    “I believe in the team concept. I want to develop a team. I want five kids on the court at one time where every single one of those kids has the green light to shoot the ball. That’s important at tournament time, too. If you are leaning on one or two kids as your shooters, they can be stopped. I want five kids on the court to be able to dribble, pass, and shoot - to be able to knock down shots when they have to, when they’re open.
    The Sullivans had just accepted an offer on their La Crescent home and made an offer of their own on a house in Spring Grove when they spoke to the Herald.
    “I think it’s going to be a really good move for our family,” Patrick said. “I’m excited about all of the really nice things that this town has to offer.
    “When Deb was interviewing a couple years ago, we pulled into town, and right away, we saw the aquatic center. We thought, ‘A town of 1300 has an aquatic center?’ A town the size of Onalaska with 20,000 people has an aquatic center of similar size.
    “There’s so much to do here with the parks and the pool and the library and the school itself. “During her first year of teaching here, she told me every night after work that she loved this town. She just raved about the people here, how nice they were. Spring Grove is just a very friendly, welcoming place.