SHERIDAN — Larry Ligocki had gotten comfortable with all the extra free time. For the last four years, the coaching whistle collected dust as Ligocki enjoyed simply being a fan of the game of basketball.
But the game — that’s played, to put it lightly, a large part in Ligocki’s life — urged him back to the sidelines.
Ligocki is in his first year as the head coach of the Sheridan High School girls basketball team, which opened official practice Monday, and so far, so good.
“I enjoy working with the girls, especially because they work so hard,” Ligocki said. “They bust their rear ends every day, and they play with a smile on their face. Anytime something is new, there’s some excitement but a little bit of unknown. But sometimes the change is something to look forward to.
“It has gone well.”
Ligocki’s been around the game of basketball his entire life. He played in high school and later competed for Sheridan College before attending the University of Wyoming and marrying his wife Kim.
Once his three daughters began dribbling a basketball, Ligocki picked up the clipboard and put the coaching hat on. He coached travel-youth basketball and later led the Lady Broncs junior varsity squad for four years.
Then Ligocki took his break. A four-year hiatus, as he put it.
That’s when he became a fan, and a devoted one at that.
“The break was very enjoyable,” Ligocki said. “After you (coach) for a while, it’s nice to have a little break. You go home after work and you’ve got some time in the evening, and I just ended up watching a lot of basketball. There’s part of me that thought it was kind of a good learning lesson for me to watch some other basketball at another level.”
That level being the collegiate ranks. Ligocki traveled south for nearly every home game of his daughter, Hailey’s, four-year basketball career at the University of Wyoming from 2013-17.
Ligocki observed as his daughter took on a bigger role for the Cowgirls each and every season, culminating with a senior year that saw her average 7.3 points, 2.5 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game in 27.3 minutes of floor time.
“You learn a lot just sitting in the stands and watching some professional Division I coaches coach and see how they do it,” Larry Ligocki said. “And I was fairly close to it. I knew kind of what they were doing because my daughter was on the team. … They’re sharp coaches down there at UW, and there’s just a wealth of knowledge down there.”
Ligocki took everything in like a sponge. But after Hailey’s collegiate career came to a close, Ligocki figured he’d take some time away from the game, maybe do a little more ranching with his father and enjoy more free time to do whatever he pleased.
Then came an opportunity, a chance to implement some of that Division I knowledge to help the Lady Broncs varsity squad.
“For a while, at first, I was not even planning on doing it,” Ligocki said. “I got comfortable the last four years being out of it. … The more I thought about it, and visiting with my wife about it, we thought this would be a good thing. I’m going to the games anyways because I have a daughter on the squad. That’s not the sole reason I did it. But I’m at the games anyways. I’m going to travel on the road anyways, so why not jump in the gym.”
The team got a taste of Ligocki’s coaching philosophies and style over the summer when Sheridan players took advantage of non-mandatory practices to better their craft. The Lady Broncs went through 12 practice sessions culminating in a five-quarter game against Billings Skyview.
The first couple days of official practice have been a whirlwind and a bit of an adjustment for Ligocki and his players. He’s getting a taste of all the things that go with being the head man, which includes the administrative side of things.
As far as basketball goes, Ligocki’s team is going to hang its hat on the defensive end of the floor.
“There’s still some question marks,” Ligocki said. “Some of the questions are where are we going to score some points because we darn sure are going to lock people up.”
Next week’s East/West Classic will mark Ligocki’s varsity head-coaching debut. The game that’s defined his life, that he thought long and hard about staying away from in regards to coaching, has pulled him back.
And Sheridan High School girls basketball is the beneficiary.