Danon Briggs wasn’t sure how long he might stay at Northland College when he first arrived as a junior transfer student three years ago.
“Right away, I didn’t want to when I first got up to Northland,” Briggs said. “I didn’t like it at all. Being a big city kid, it was a hard transition to come to a town with 8,000 people and a school with 500 kids. It’s a huge difference.”
Briggs grew up in Bloomington, Minn., the largest suburb of the Twin Cities, and home to the Mall of America. Adjusting to life in a much smaller town took some time.
But there was always basketball, the one constant in his life that sustained him no matter where he went. And now he’s used his aptitude for the game to become even more a local fixture in his first season as head coach of Ashland High School’s boys C team.
Briggs transferred to Northland after two years of playing basketball at St. John’s University in St. Cloud, Minn., following the appointment of long-time mentor Scott Sorenson as head coach of the Lumberjacks in 2015.
“I’ve known Danon since his sophomore year of high school,” Sorenson said. “I was an assistant coach at a Division II school when I took notice of this small but lightning-quick point guard at an AAU tourney. Over his high school years, Danon and I built quite the strong relationship. When it came time for him to choose a college, I had just moved on from the Division II school to take over the Northland program.”
It didn’t take long for Briggs to find himself at home in Ashland once the small town charm took hold.
“I love Northland, and I loved playing for them,” he said. “It’s a small community. Everybody knows you. Everybody supports the basketball team, so it’s just great to walk around and people are talking to you about basketball. You get to see familiar faces everywhere.
“You go to the grocery store and you see somebody who was at the game, and then you start talking about basketball. Just that small-town feeling where everybody knows you and everybody is friendly and talks to you, and whether they like basketball or not, they still support you. That has allowed me to consider staying, and I think I could see myself here for a while.”
Briggs seems even more at home now in his new role at the helm of the C team.
“He brings a lot of experience, and he’s also a good role model for the kids,” AHS boys varsity basketball head coach Bob Blaschke said. “We’re really happy to have him be a part of this program and I think he’s definitely going to stick it out. He loves coaching. He did it over the summer for us, and the kids really like him. He’s got a good personality and he also holds them accountable.”
As someone who’s always wanted to make the move from player to coach, Briggs has found the perfect opportunity to do just that in Ashland.
“In basketball everyone knows the point guard is sort of the coach on the floor, so at a young age — probably 10, 11 or 12 — I knew I wanted to coach basketball,” he said. “The level doesn’t matter. It could be little kids, high school, college, and everyone’s dream is to make it to the NBA in some shape or form. This is my first step and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
He’s also clearly cut out for the job.
“Danon’s basketball I.Q. was always outstanding, so his transition to coaching was natural,” Sorenson said. “Oftentimes he was exactly like an extension of myself as a coach on the floor. It’s so great to see him staying involved in the game and working with young people to teach them about life through the game of basketball. There was never any doubt that Danon would be a great coach.”
While his love for the game runs deep, the biggest inspiration for this young coach is clearly family.
“My younger brother Maxwell, who’s 13 now, which is crazy to think about — we are an 11-year age difference, and ever since he could walk and talk, he’s been looking up to me, and everything’s been for him,” Briggs said. “I just want to show him the right path and how to do things the right way, and just work ethic, helping him learn that.
“Then my mom. My mom sacrificed so many things, and with student loans and all those things. Without her I wouldn’t even be in college, honestly, so showing that I can do something with my life and also give back to others the way she gave to me, hopefully one day I can give it all back to her.”
Briggs may have already moved into a coaching role at the high school, but his Northland days aren’t over just yet. While his four years of athletic eligibility have expired, he’s still enrolled at the college this semester, and taking the C team job while finishing his degree seemed like the next logical step.
“I’m an education major, looking to be a teacher,” Briggs said. “I have one more semester and then I graduate this May. I love helping out and giving back to the community that’s helped me out, and it’s perfect for me as a current college student. I can still help out with high school basketball and stay around the game after being done playing.”
Briggs has gained plenty of perspective since relocating to the Bay Area, and he continues to find more to love about the area he now calls home.
“Being outdoors in the Cities is one thing,” he said. “Walking from home to the mall, or walking to the gym. At Northland, being outdoors is a completely different thing. I’ve actually experienced my first hiking trip—went to Houghton Falls. I go there a lot and I love it now. I take my dog there all the time and we can just go for a walk. I went fishing for the first time. I fed a cow for the first time. So Ashland has changed me for the better. It’s always good to gain new perspectives, and coming from the Cities, life here is so much different. Now I feel like I’ve grown as a person just being out here and learning new things that could seem so basic to people who are from here.”
Some differences between the big city and the Chequamegon Bay, however, seem to always persist, no matter which view you take.
“It’s gotten to the point where, whenever I go home, I get so frustrated in traffic because the most traffic you have in Ashland is at a red light for a minute or two,” Briggs said. “And it’s like my patience level has gotten so low. Every time I go home we’re stuck in traffic for like an hour. You can’t blame traffic on being late around here.”