Former Poke Watsabaugh named Red Devils hoops coach

Rob Watsabaugh, a former player and coach at the University of Wyoming, has been named the new head boys’ basketball coach at EHS.

After a short search, Uinta County District 1 has hired Rob Watsabaugh as the new head boys’ basketball coach at Evanston High School.

“We are excited to add tremendous coaching experience and a UW connection to our athletic program, as well as to our educational community,” said EHS activities director Bubba O’Neill.

Watsabaugh replaces former Red Devils head coach Lex Cornia, who stepped down from the position in March after four seasons at the helm. Cornia left behind a legacy of success, with his teams compiling a 66-44 record and qualifying for the 4A State Tournament all four years.

Watsabaugh will inherit a Red Devils team that will graduate six seniors, including All-State players Mason Ellingford and Dawson Crofts, as well All-Conference selections David Baxter and Casey Periman.

Watsabaugh graduated from Jackson Hole High School in 2007, where he was a 3A West All-Conference basketball player; he also played football and excelled academically, named to the honor roll all four years, according to a press release.

“I’m excited — I think it’s a great opportunity to be a part of the community and to continue the success that Evanston High School basketball has had in the past,” Watsabaugh said.

Watsabaugh grew up in Jackson, where he played football and basketball for the Broncs. The 2007 graduate had the opportunity to see his childhood dream to play hoops for the Pokes come to fruition after a two-year stint at West Hills College in Coalinga, California, where he earned Central Valley All-Conference honors following the 2008-09 season.

“Playing at a junior college really helped me develop my game — I became bigger and stronger, and gained a better understanding of the game,” he said. “I was then blessed with an opportunity to come back to Laramie and play.”

Watsabaugh played three seasons at UW — from 2010-2013 — before becoming a graduate assistant to then-head coach Larry Shyatt. He spent the past five seasons as Director of Player Development.

“The graduate assistant job turned into a strength and conditioning job, which then a few years later turned into an operations/video job, slowly moving up the ladder there,” he said. “But now it’s time to start over, get moving in a new direction.”

Watsabaugh didn’t survive the coaching purge at UW that came with the introduction of a new head coach and staff, when new head coach Jeff Linder took over for Allen Edwards in March. He began searching for a coaching position shortly after, and is excited that he found one in his home state.

“I had been at the University of Wyoming — as a player, and a coach — in total for 11 years,” Watsabaugh explained. “I was not retained with the new head coach turnover, and had actively been looking at different opportunities. I consider Wyoming as a whole home, and I thought this could be a great opportunity to be able to apply a lot of the things that I’ve learned and dreamed of implementing as a coach. After meeting and talking with the committee — and having a couple of days to think things over — I thought this could be an incredible opportunity for me to move forward as a coach.”

Watsabaugh said he fell in love with the coaching aspect of basketball at the tail end of his playing career, crediting the coaches he played for with fostering that love.

“After I graduated with my undergraduate degree [in kinesiology], it was either coaching or physical therapy,” he explained. “I had a great opportunity to work under Coach Shyatt and head in that direction. I was around a lot of great coaches there, and started to love coaching more and more.”

Watsabaugh is looking forward to working with a Red Devils program that boasts plenty of young talent. He’s defensive-minded in his approach to the game, as is an upbeat offense.

“I talked to Bubba [O’Neill, EHS activities director], and he said there’s a good group of kids coming back, as well as talent at the JV and freshman level, even the eighth graders,” he said. “One thing that I see this team doing is putting themselves in a position to compete every single night. Defense will definitely be an emphasis for the team, and we’re gonna play our tails off. We’ll be flying around, and there will be a ton of effort that you’ll see on the floor, night in and night out.”

As for what he enjoys most about coaching, building relationships with players is at the forefront.

“Being able to teach them the game of basketball, but also some life skills through the game of basketball is the best,” Watsabaugh said.

“I’m really looking forward to taking over and having a program that is all the way from seventh grade to 12th grade having a culture of basketball that will be shown throughout all levels. I’m definitely excited, and looking forward to it.”

Though there’s no timetable for when Watsabaugh will begin working with his players, the former Poke is anxious to get started.

“With everything that’s going on [with the COVID-19 pandemic], I’m not sure when things will start coming together,” he said.

“Hopefully sooner than later I’ll get to evaluate, see what works best for the group as a whole. There are some things that I envision implementing that will work for whatever the roster looks like. But I’m definitely excited to get into the gym and start helping kids get better, as well as represent the high school and the city the right way.”

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