ROCK FALLS — Brad Bickett knew he’d get back into coaching one day, it was just a matter of time. He also knew when he did return to the bench, he wanted to bring Bret Helms back with him.
The former Bureau Valley coaches, who formed one of the best tandems in north central Illinois for one season at Buda Western and 15 years at Bureau Valley, including a trifecta of IHSA State third-place finishes, are back together on the bench this season, just a few miles up the road at Rock Falls.
They have guided the Rockets to a 21-6 season record heading into Wednesday’s 3A regional semifinals vs. Mendota.
It only seems natural they return together.
The difference this time around for Helms is not having his own team to direct as he did when he was head sophomore coach at Bureau Valley. He’s now there solely to lend an ear and an extra set of eyes for Bickett.
“It’s one of those mutual respects we have,” Bickett said. “When he suggests something, I take it to heart. I take everything he says to heart and utilize a lot of the changes he suggests very, very often because I think he’s one of those guys who has a good mind for it. He’s got a good feel for the flow of the game, and his stuff usually works.
“I let him know when it works, and I let him know when it doesn’t. That’s kind of the fun relationship we have.”
Helms said the partnership works well, because “I know his system and what he expects and what he wants. I’m kind of there for practice, do a little scouting, help him with some ideas and what the team needs to work on and our strengths and weakness.”
Bickett thinks his coaching comrade likes being able to relax a little more before the game, “maybe having a bag of popcorn and not dealing with the nerves and other stuff going on being head coach at your level.”
“He’s told me enjoys his role and is doing it just fantastically,” Bickett added. “He’s been very instrumental in helping bring some of the things from Bureau Valley to Rock Falls from the basketball standpoint, to discipline, to school classroom kind of stuff. Everything that goes together in putting a basketball program together. Hopefully, we’re making a difference than just basketball.”
One difference at home is little Brooke Helms, 2 1/2, is no longer just a daddy’s girl with dad being gone more at nights with basketball.
“Brenda’s got her daughter back,” said Helms, also the father of two boys, 7 and 5.
Aside from the basketball games, the coaches’ families are enjoying spending more time together.
“We kind of missed that those two years. Bret and Brenda and Jolene and I and the kids didn’t get to see each other as much. It’s been enjoyable from that standpoint as well,” Bickett said.
Of course Helms gets what Bickett calls a big assist when it comes to love and marriage for his boss man. It is Helms who introduced Bickett to the former Jolene Anderson, Helms’ cousin.
“That was a good call on his part. I’m thankful for him for that. The friendship that’s developed between our families and wives is very, very important to us,” Bickett said.
After spending 16 years coaching basketball together, Bickett and Helms wouldn’t want it any other way.