The Newman men's basketball program, dormant for almost a decade, had turned to one of its own in Mark Potter.
It was 1998 and Potter, then the boys coach at South, had just lost a heartbreaker to Heights in the Class 6A tournament. He broke the news to his team afterward that he would be headed to the college ranks _ back to the school where he'd been a two-sport star in baseball and basketball in the mid-1980s. It was a secret he'd kept since the Titans had won sub-state one week earlier.
After his announcement, Potter stayed to watch the championship game in order to start scouting players for his new team.
And it was in that moment that he realized something very important.
"I'd never recruited before," Potter said. "I'd never been through the process of recruiting anybody ... and I had to have a team ready to go by August, when school started. It was kind of overwhelming at first."
Now, almost 14 years later, things are a little different.
The Jets are in their fourth full season at the NCAA Division II level after moving up from NAIA and head into tonight's regular-season matchup against Wichita State (8-2) with Potter still at the helm — and still the only coach since the program's resurrection.
"What (Potter) brings to the table at a school like Newman is that his love for the university goes well beyond somebody that would come in from the outside," Newman athletic director Vic Trilli said. "We're thankful that Newman has been able to keep him around because he's had opportunities to pursue other jobs. He's a tremendous coach and a special person. Truly unique."
It's the third year in a row that Newman (8-2) has faced the Shockers, although the first two were in exhibition contests.
"From where we were when I started, where we were just happy to have a team, to now being NCAA Division II and getting ready to play WSU for the third year in a row is really amazing," Potter said. "This is the epitome of what we'd want to have happen, and it's an opportunity we're grateful for ... although this is a year where (WSU) has really been making some people miserable on the court. They're a special team."
The 48-year-old Potter, with a career record of 251-143, has made building the Jets' program his life's work. And it's a job he knows will probably come to define his career.
"I guess that's something you have to watch how you answer, but it will probably be what defines me," Potter said. "And I know that the wins are important, obviously, because nobody wants to win more than I do, but I would hope that people also remember how I represented the university, because it's a place that is really dear to me... although my perspective on how I'm viewed and how I view myself is just a tad different than it used to be."
In 2005, Potter revealed he'd been in a lengthy battle with depression and sat out the first eight games of the season to deal with it.
Since then, thanks to medication and counseling, he's been able to lead a normal life —"My normal, at least," Potter said — and has become an advocate for those struggling with depression, giving group talks and meeting with individuals who are struggling with depression.
"I feel very fortunate because it's a problem some people escape by taking their own lives," Potter said. "Every profession has its own stresses, and in my situation I guess you could ask 'why in the world would you be doing this?' But I'm a true coach, and guys like that do it for their lifetime and they develop an addiction to making a difference in people's lives... at the end of the day that's what it's about for me.
"Whether I'm here another 14 years or not this has been a great situation and a great job. I remember being at South and wondering if I wanted to stay (in high schools) my whole life or did I want to try to get a college job, which would be much harder to come by. Then that phone call came from Newman and I've never looked back."