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Son urges dad to coach him

By Aaron Paitich, Special to the Star Tribune, 02/25/12, 5:42PM CST


A St. Thomas Academy coach was ready to step down to avoid putting extra pressure on his son.

St. Thomas Academy senior Thomas Sjoberg has enjoyed the opportunity to play for his dad, coach Mike Sjoberg, for three seasons. Mike Sjoberg has enjoyed the time as well. Photo provided by Tim Milner

Mike Sjoberg saw it one way, but his son wasn't having it.

The elder Sjoberg had been coaching St. Thomas Academy boys' basketball for 13 years before his son, Thomas, entered the program as a sophomore in 2009-2010 season. Mike had led the Cadets to two state titles, including one as recently as 2007. But the veteran coach was considering stepping down to avoid the potentially negative effects of a father-son duo.

"I really wasn't sure if I wanted to coach him," Mike Sjoberg said. "I mean, I can take it. I've heard it all. But I didn't want to put extra pressure on him."

So mom and dad sat down with Thomas to air their feelings. They believed it would be best if dad didn't coach.

Thomas, who grew up watching his dad coach, fought back.

"He got kind of emotional, which is not common for him," Mike Sjoberg recalled. "He said, 'That's just not fair, you coach everybody else's kids, but you won't coach your own.'

"And when he said it that way, I decided if he wants to go through it, I'll go through it with him."

Mike had coached varsity basketball for 15 years -- two at Hastings prior to St. Thomas Academy -- but this would be a new experience. For Thomas, it was one he was both working toward and looking forward to. "That was one thing I always wanted to do," Thomas Sjoberg said.

As a little kid, Thomas was always in the gym with his father. He would join him every Saturday morning for practice, play around with the older kids and fill up water bottles on the bench during games. Afterward, he would come home, head to the basement and mimic the varsity players.

"I guess I've really been a student of the game since I was 5 years old, just watching, learning and seeing what they do," Thomas said.

The initial worries of favoritism and unfairness were dismissed rather quickly in the team's first year together.

"When I was a sophomore, he yelled at me pretty good a couple times in practice," Thomas recalled. "He told me to go downstairs and call my mom to come pick me up."

Thomas had been a standout as both a sophomore and junior. Now a senior, the coach's son has flourished. He is averaging nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, a rarity in Minnesota high school basketball. He scored 36 points twice -- against Chanhassen and Mahtomedi -- and 34 against Hill-Murray. Those games helped lead the Cadets to a second-place spot in the Classic Suburban Conference standings.

Thomas has some partial Diviison I offers and numerous D-II offers on the table, along with heavy pursuit from the D-III MIAC.

Dad is adamant about keeping all of his coaching in the gym, electing not to bring it home. One thing's for sure: His perception of coaching his son at the varsity level has completely changed.

"It's been a complete joy," Mike Sjoberg said. "Getting to spend two hours a day with your son in a setting that you just love, it's really been great."

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