When Phil Choler left his home state of Indiana for Wyoming he knew he’d find his way back to basketball. A decade later he’s reacquainted with the game he grew up loving at the state’s largest classification.
Choler is the newest boys basketball coach at Natrona County following the resignation of former head coach Shawn Gillum earlier this month. The native Hoosier sat down with the Star-Tribune a day before his introductory meet-and-greet with prospective players and their parents to talk about his new role as head coach of the Mustangs.
During the conversation he expressed excitement for the position and the game itself. Basketball, after all, is second to none in Indiana and his love for it didn’t diminish when he relocated to Casper in order to work for the minor-league baseball Casper Ghosts. While working for the Ghosts he got his basketball fix by coaching at Midwest, leading the Oilers to the Class 1A consolation championship in his first year. When the Ghosts moved out of town he needed a full-time job and eventually made his way to Dean Morgan Middle School. Always enthusiastic about helping the kids and community, Choler’s attitude stood out to others and made him a lucrative option during the most recent coaching search.
“Coach Choler stuck out to us because of his integrity,” Natrona County activities director Bryan Honken said. “He really understood basketball and how to teach kids basketball. When we got together and sat down one of the first things we said was that this guy can build relationships. Kids love this guy.”
While working at Dean Morgan, the new Mustang head coach helped at Casper College, taking stats and sitting in on men’s basketball practices. He learned from former head coach Dan Russell and new head coach Shaun Gutting while he waited for his time to become a coach once more. After Gillum announced his resignation, Choler knew it was time.
“You walk into this facility and how do you not get excited about basketball?” Choler said in reference to Jerry Dalton Gym. “This is as good as it gets right here. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of the kids here now through my time at Dean Morgan. There’s a great group of kids here and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Choler is the 15th head coach in program history dating back to 1932. He takes over for Gillum, who coached for 10 seasons starting in 2010. During that time the Mustangs went a combined 114-137 and won two state championships. They qualified for the state tournament in seven of those 10 seasons but come off the program’s fourth consecutive losing season, 7-15.
It’ll be up to Choler and his enthusiasm to help the program turn a corner once again. He’s already reached out to other coaches at Natrona County to see how they can build working relationships. He hopes to offer an exciting brand of Mustang basketball to help enthusiasm for the program grow.
“We’re going to play real hard,” Choler said. “We’re going to play fast, we’re going to defend the basketball at a high level. We are going to play basketball the way that it was meant to be played. We’re going to screen hard, cut hard, block out, we’re going to play hard-nosed basketball. And more than anything on the court, we’re going to build good kids.”