RANTOUL — Don’t tell Deon Mennenga you can’t go home again. Mennenga has.
Mennenga, who served as the head boys basketball coach last season at Armstrong Township High School, returns as an assistant coach at Rantoul Township High School, where he starred for the Eagles and coached for seven years in the late ‘90s-early 2000s.
The job came open last season when former junior varsity coach Ryan Parker stepped into the head varsity coaching role after Brett Frerichs resigned as head coach at Rantoul.
The 60-year-old Mennenga “grew up playing in Rantoul,” he said. He was the most valuable player for the Eagles in 1978 and earned honorable mention all-state honors before going on to play at Connors State in Oklahoma, a two-year school. His college playing days ended when he injured his foot but not before being recruited by a few four-year universities.
Basketball is a passion for the Mennenga family. Younger brother Mike is an assistant coach at Oregon.
Deon coached at RTHS for about seven years, then served a couple of years as assistant boys coach at Fisher before being named head coach, a position he held for five years. Fisher made it to the Elite Eight his last season there.
From there, Mennenga was head coach at Bismarck-Henning for five years. The Blue Devils went 27-3 his last year and were ranked sixth in the state poll.
Mennenga took a break from coaching for a few years before being named head coach at Armstrong, where he served for two seasons. Armstrong JV coach Wade Rogers will succeed Mennenga as head coach. (See related story.)
Mennenga said he prefers an uptempo style of offense.
“I like to take the ball up the floor, a quicker-paced game,” he said.
“I’m anxious to meet the kids,” he said.
Mennenga and his brother Derald operate Mennenga Pest Control in Rantoul.
Herb Burnett, who is no stranger to Rantoul as he runs the Leadership Development Academy program at J.W. Eater Junior High School, will head the junior varsity boys program.
Burnett, who has coached at Urbana and Champaign schools for several years, “definitely adds a lot of experience,” Parker said.
“He ... is a high-energy type guy, which is great for me and the kids.”
Chris Fondia has been named the new freshman coach. Fondia previously coached seventh-graders at Eater. A 2001 graduate of RTHS, he played under coach Brian Cupples “when they had some really good teams,” Parker said.
Devine Thompson will return as an assistant coach for all levels, and Kevin Williams was added to serve a similar role.
Williams led the AAU First-Level Underdogs for a couple of years, Parker said, adding, “He has ties with the kids in the program now.”
Parker has coached at Rantoul since 2011.
“I’m anxious to get in the gym,” he said. “This summer is going to be crucial for us, especially with a new staff and new concepts.”
He said the team will retain the same principles but will add new wrinkles on both offense and defense.