Justus looks to shape quality young men

Robert Smith
Holton Justus, left, puts an arm around his dad, Talby, who is the new Pawhuska High School boys basketball coach. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

Talby Justus is excited about taking over the boys varsity basketball program at Pawhuska High School, and he wants his new team to compete at a high level, but he’s focused on the serious, long-term aspects of the move, too.

Justus, who is making transition from the college coaching ranks back to the high school level (he has been associate head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Texas at Arlington), told the Journal-Capital that he’s thinking about his family, and about teaching high school basketball players who will grow up to be solid family people.

“This move has a lot to do with my family,” Justus said last Thursday, in an interview at PHS. “I just found that the college level took me away from my family a lot.”

His wife, Lori, will be the new secondary school principal for the Pawhuska school district, and his son, Holton, who will be a senior, plans to play basketball at Pawhuska in 2020-21. Talby Justus said he looks forward to that experience, as well.

“I learned so much watching my dad lead a program,” Talby Justus said of playing high school ball for his dad, Harley Justus, at Pawnee High School. “I have a lot of fond memories of playing for my dad.”

Looking at his own venture back into high school coaching at Pawhuska, Talby Justus points out that he was a high school basketball coach for a dozen years before taking a collegiate job; and he voices a desire to prepare young men for life.

“I’m just excited about helping these young men develop into leaders, and the type of men who will take care of families and wives,” Justus said. “I just want to make sure we’re teaching them about more than basketball. It’s bigger than basketball, for sure.”

This summer he’s planning to work on basketball fundamentals and on putting in an offense, but he knows football is scheduled to lead the way into the 2020-21 sports calendar and he’s very impressed with the preparation and readiness of Coach Matt Hennesy’s gridiron organization.

“I know that they’re going to have a tremendous year in football,” Justus said, explaining he’s interested in building a championship attitude in the gym, as well.

“I feel like we can do it,” he said. “There are some really good kids here. We’ve got to establish our culture. I just love what I’ve seen so far.”

Justus also commented on the tightness of the relationships among Pawhuska High athletes and coaches that he has observed.

“I just sense a brotherhood that they have,” he said of the athletes, adding that the same spirit is evident among the coaches. “I’ve been super-impressed with the coaching staff out on the football field.”

The intense summer preparation that is ongoing for Pawhuska athletes generally will make it easier for Justus to teach a work ethic to his basketball team.

“That’s a huge, huge benefit,” he said. “I just want to keep that train rolling.”

Justus figures a deep postseason run for Pawhuska in football likely means a short turnaround to basketball. So, if he can teach some things now it’ll be easier to make the transition, and he likes Pawhuska High’s commitment to developing multi-sport athletes.

“What I’ve seen so far is they’re a very athletic group of kids and they’re very respectful,” Justus said. “Probably my biggest concern is just time. I am uncertain at this point what the time frame is going to be to get them to the point where they can go win at an extremely high level. The athletes are here.”

He said that he intends to prepare, throughout the basketball regular season, to be ready for a postseason run.