by Bob San
John Rieser has always been passionate about basketball but he never played high school varsity basketball. In his three years at Madison West High School in Wisconsin, Rieser was the last player cut each year.
But those early setbacks did not diminish Rieser’s love for basketball. He played intramural ball in high school and college and became a student of the game and later a coach. He’s learned the game so well that he was recently named the new Osseo High girls’ basketball head coach.
Rieser replaces Joey Waters, who left to accept an assistant coach position at the Minnesota State University at Moorhead after four years as the Orioles’ head coach.
“I am excited. I have really enjoyed the last four years with Joey and before that four years with Mark Arzdorf,” Rieser said. “I have really learned a lot from both of them and I felt like I am ready to step in and keep the same quality we have here at Osseo. We will keep the same quality program. I don’t see us slide off very much.”
Rieser has been working (he is a special education teacher at Osseo High) and coaching in the Osseo Area School District since 1988, so he knows full well the tradition of excellence of Osseo girls’ basketball started by former coach Dave Thorpe in the mid-1980s.
“I knew Dave Thorpe a little bit and talked to him, so I know the tradition of excellence of Osseo basketball,” Rieser said. “I remember watching their games in the late 80s and early 90s when he had teams down at the state tournament.”
Thorpe started the successful tradition and coaches who followed such as Warren Bolin, Arzdorf and Waters managed to keep that glorious tradition alive and well, each leading the Orioles to state. Rieser knows it’s a tough act to follow, but he is ready for the challenge.
“When Mark left four years ago I thought about applying, but at that time I wasn’t sure I was ready to be a head coach,” Rieser said. “After four more years with Joey I really felt I was ready to take the plunge.”
Rieser is confident he can get the job done because he has been successful at every coaching job he has had. He started coaching eighth and ninth grade boys’ basketball at North View Junior High, then moved to Osseo Junior to coach ninth grade girls before joining the Osseo High girls’ basketball program as its junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach. He is especially proud of the Osseo junior varsity program.
“Our JV program has been very successful since I’ve been here,” Rieser said. “Our philosophy has always been that our JV is the development program, which is one reasons we’ve never kept seniors on the JV team. Our track record of kids coming through our JV program and playing varsity basketball is pretty good. If you look at the past number of years there have been very few kids who didn’t spend at least a year or some amount of time playing in the JV program. I can toot my horn a little bit because I think I have something to do with that. We have developed kids to understand what it takes to be a varsity player at Osseo High School. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of hard work.”
Rieser looks to continue the coaching philosophy and playing styles that Osseo teams are known for — tough defense and up-tempo game.
“That’s kind of what I’ve always felt like. You start with defense and your offense takes care of itself,” Rieser said. “So pressure defense, push the ball, that’s not going to change. That’s the Osseo philosophy in the last eight years I’ve been here. We really preach defense and the kids know that. I think there isn’t a kid on the team who when you ask what defines Osseo basketball who won’t tell you it’s defense. That’s not going to change. If you can play defense, create turnovers and push the ball, I think that’s the kind of game the kids enjoy playing.”
Rieser is confident about his ability to coach and manage game situations because he contributed in those areas as an assistant. But he knows there are new chores he will have to perform as the head coach.
“The main difference is that a head coach has to handle more administrative, behind-the-scene duties — such as coordinating the summer programs and scheduling,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how much goes into being a head coach.”
Osseo’s success over the years means expectations are always high for the Orioles. Rieser understands that.
“My expectations is what the girls want to do and I know the girls’ expectations,” Rieser said. “At Osseo, the expectation is you go to the state tournament. I think that’s what we are expecting to do coming off last year and with the kids we have coming back. That’s what we are expecting to do. Now we have to work hard and make that happen. Just wanting is not enough, we have to go out and do it. I think we have a core group of kids who are willing to put in the time to do it.”
The Orioles finished second in the state tournament last year and Rieser will use last season’s experience to stress that the Orioles have to work hard to achieve success. Rieser pointed out that even during that great season, there were times the Orioles struggled to live up to the high expectations.
“Just because you think you are good and people think you are good you still have to go out and prove it every single night,” Rieser said. “There were times last year we didn’t do that. The kids really came together at the end and played the way we felt like we could have played all year long. We got into the state tournament and we ran into Hopkins, the class of the state. Now we know there is another jump we have to take if we want to compete at that level.”
Rieser inherits a team that lost some key players but return several solid veterans.
“You don’t replace a Mikayla Bailey and an Olivia Antilla, you just hope you can find someone who are close to that,” Rieser said. “We have some kids who are working hard and we are excited about our prospects.”