SPRINGFIELD – The Springfield Millers boys basketball team hasn’t had it easy in recent history, and their new head coach is trying to turn that around. Springfield was 13-50 over the course of the past three seasons, and hasn’t had a winning season since the 2019-20 campaign.
TC Combs, Churchill alum and previously a Churchill assistant, is trying to change the culture in his first year at the helm.
“They didn’t have a great record last year, and so we’re just trying to build off of that. But it is also a new team, new coach, new identity, and we just need to establish a character,” Combs said after a recent 60-35 loss to Thurston. “We just have to change our mentality on how we approach this game. What I do like is that they’re buying in, and they’re competing. We don’t need the greatest athletes in the world, we just need people that compete and give maximum effort.”
In the 60-35 loss to Thurston, the Millers showed much of the fight that Combs is looking for, trailing by only three heading into halftime against the 14th-ranked Colts. The second half was all Thurston, though, as the Millers scored only nine second-half points.
“I think that we just got too excited that we were competing and hanging in that first half, and we just kind of took our foot off the gas. We competed really well, and I tried to get them to have the 0-0 mindset going into the third quarter,” Combs said. “But we just laid an egg, because I think we scored three or four points in that third quarter. In eight minutes, getting three or four points, that’s not going to win us a basketball game.”
It wasn’t just the Thurston loss where the Millers were unable to put a full game together. Despite a 4-13 record, Springfield has five losses by 10 points or less, including two one-point losses. Even after the Thurston loss last week, Springfield fell 61-57 to Churchill and 50-49 to Eagle Point, dropping to 1-5 in the Midwestern League.
“It’s just all about putting four quarters together, you know, and I keep telling these guys, we want our consistency to start catching up with us,” Combs said. “I obviously would like it to happen, you know, a little sooner than it has, but they’re getting it. We’ve got a lot of senior guys too, and it’s really tough to change our habits as seniors.”
Combs was an assistant coach for Churchill, a program that’s had at least 20 wins a season for every full season since 2016. He knows that championship mindset won’t be ingrained overnight, but he still wants this team to understand what it’s like to believe in themselves.
“I want to get in the playoffs. I think people think that’s far-fetched. I think sometimes even these kids think it’s far-fetched,” Combs said. “I want the sky to be the limit. But the reality is, you know, we have less than 10 games left, we do have a bunch of seniors who will probably start gelling by the end of season, and then that’s when the season ends. So I want to get them to believe sooner than later that they can make a run for the playoffs.”
The Millers, who were led by sophomore Jayden Robinson with 11 points in the Thurston loss, did win their first league game since Feb. 1, 2022 with a 60-49 win over Ashland in mid-January. If Springfield wants to get more league wins as the year comes to a close, they’ll need to play gritty basketball, something Combs said brought him to Springfield from Eugene.
“I like the grittiness from these kids, and I liked the closeness with the community. I feel like for me, I probably can relate better to these kids here. Everyone has a purpose, and I just feel like this is my purpose – to be out here to try to instruct them to be good, solid young men, but at the same time learn basketball,” Combs said. “Like I said, it’s not my first rodeo. I’ve had a lot of great coaches to just understand the game from, but now that it’s my time to do it, I want my kids to be an example of me.”