BY DENNIS CHASE, Sports editor
---- — When you call Reggie Manville and ask if he has a couple minutes, he responds, "I'm retired."
Well, somewhat retired.
The 67-year-old is the village president in Elberta and the boys basketball coach at Frankfort.
When he's not immersed in those jobs, you'll probably find him fishing.
Right now, though, the job he's done at Frankfort has people taking notice. His Panther basketball team is 9-0, state ranked, and hosting once-beaten Glen Lake tonight in a pivotal Northwest Conference showdown.
This 9-0 start is the second best in school history, according to Frankfort historian Pete Sandman. More than 50 years ago, the 1961-62 team went 22-0, he said, before falling in the quarterfinals to Houghton.
"It's (success) come awful fast," said Manville, who's in his second year as the Panthers coach. "We're 9-0, but we have a very young team. We have a long way to go to become what I consider a good basketball team, a good basketball program."
Building that type of program was part of Manville's pitch when he interviewed for the Panthers job.
"I've lived here full-time since 1997, part-time prior to that," said Manville, who was the head coach at Flint Southwestern Academy for 13 years. "I know Frankfort has elite programs in football, baseball and girls basketball. My goal is to bring the boys basketball program in line with those, which is very lofty because when I say elite that means in any given year you're able to compete at a state level. We haven't done that in awhile (in boys basketball)."
In fact, when Frankfort won a district crown last March it was the school's first in 11 years.
"We turned that corner," Manville said. "When I look up in the rafters I see the last time we won a regional was 1975 so that's our next goal. When you come out of a regional then you can consider yourself an elite team. That's what we're striving to become."
Last season's district title team was senior dominated. By contrast, Manville has only one senior in his playing group this season.
"A lot of times we have two freshmen on the floor," he said. "My sophomore (David Loney) is the best guy on the team. We're going to be better, but like I told the kids we're not going to talk about next year. Nobody can predict the future. We don't know what's going to happen. So let's deal with reality, which is this year. Let's try to be the best team we can possibly be this year.
"And they've responded. We have a lot of deficiencies. I understand that. But we're working on them and the kids are getting better. As a program, I'm really pleased. We've got a basis of a very good, young program."
Manville said there are 21 players in the high school program — "16 or 17 are 9th- and 10-th graders," he said.
The 6-foot-3 Loney is one of those 10th graders. He's averaging 20 points and nearly 14 rebounds a game. He was a full-time starter as a freshman.
"As a freshman I don't think he was really appreciated," Manville said. "He averaged 10 points and 11 rebounds last season. You don't see that very often for a freshman. And he's stepped his game up this season."
Loney comes from a basketball family. His sister Jenny played on Frankfort's 2006 state championship team. She went on to play at Western Michigan. His older brother, Dan, who prepped at Benzie Central, is now a walk-on on the Western Michigan men's basketball squad.
Loney's younger brother, Mason, is one of the two freshmen playing on varsity at Frankfort.
"I had an old-timer tell me, 'We've always had good athletes here, but they've been football athletes playing other sports,'" Manville recalled. "He said, 'I think you have good basketball athletes.'
"I know these young kids have spent a lot of time playing basketball in the off-season to prepare."
Manville, who starts a junior backcourt with Brandon Schaub and Connor Bradley, places an emphasis on man-to-man defense and rebounding.
His methods are working. Although he doesn't put a lot of stock in rankings, the Panthers are No. 6 in Class D in this week's Associated Press poll. The Detroit Free Press has Frankfort at No. 2.
"I tell the kids it's kind of a like a plum that you can pick now and enjoy, but it doesn't mean anything," the coach said. "What it means is that we did a lot in a short amount of time — to get noticed statewide. We know we're not the No. 2 team in the state. I went through a litany of things that we have to do to get to that point. When I was at Southwestern Academy we were rated No.1 in the state in Class A. It took a long time to get there. I know the steps you have to go through to get there. These kids understand that. I think we're pretty well grounded."
Frankfort's signature win this season is over Cedarville, which won a state title in 2007 and was runner-up in 2009.
"We were undefeated, they we're undefeated," Manville said. "They've got a basketball program there. They're still ranked. They have that one loss to us, but that's what put us on the map."
In addition to spending 13 seasons at Flint Southwestern, where he coached Mr. Basketball runner-up Charlie Bell, Manville spent seven years as a varsity assistant and JV coach at Flint Northern. The Vikings won a state title when he was there in 1978. Even after he retired, Manville stayed active, helping out in Frankfort and Big Rapids.
"This is my sixth decade (coaching basketball)," he said. "I started in Ypsilanti in 1968 on the JV level. I've coached in every decade since then.
"My philosophy is that in a small community like this everyone has a chance to contribute. Everyone is good at something. My niche is being able to teach kids basketball. I have a chance to do that and that's my contribution to the community. It's important to me because I love it. I have a passion for basketball, always have. I was in education, taught for 30 years, so educating young people has always been a part of my life."