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Sam's time finally comes for Tornado

In the days after Gene Quilhaugh resigned on March 16 as North Medford's boys basketball coach, Tim Sam dutifully took care of the mundane matters lying ahead.

The long-time North assistant coach secured the dates necessary for summer basketball leagues, camps and so on, not quite sure what his relationship to the program would be next season.

Passed over in 1998 when Quilhaugh was hired, Sam gave the matter deep thought before throwing his hat in the ring. After a couple of weeks, the 37-year-old math teacher determined this just might be his time.

His assessment was confirmed Friday when incoming North Medford principal Doug McKenzie named Sam the Tornado's new head coach.

"Tim came out on top because of his ability to project his vision for the basketball program and his connection with kids," McKenzie said.

The other two finalists were North Bend coach John Olson and Warrenton's Rob Boye.

Sam admitted that Quilhaugh's departure caught him by surprise.

"I didn't have all my ducks in a row," Sam said. "I wasn't mentally prepared and I needed a week or two to think, 'Was I ready? And was it something I wanted to do?'"

He finished second in the selection process when Quilhaugh was hired. It was the first time he had been denied a job for which he had applied. Sam said he matured in the three years since then, but wasn't sure to pursue the opening until he talked the matter over with others.

"It wasn't an immediate thing, but the parents and kids were supportive," Sam said.

Perhaps that's because of his desire to "do the right things for the right reasons."

That philosophy, he said, came from watching his mom - Barbara Meltzer - in his formative years.

"She's an angel walking on earth," Sam said. "She puts other people before herself to a fault. She's the kindest, gentlest person."

Meltzer was a fixture in the Ashland High gym in the early 1980s during Sam's playing days when the Grizzlies ended decades of losing ways with back-to-back winning seasons his junior and senior years.

"Sometimes she would yell 'Take it away' when I was shooting," Sam recalled. "But she was pure heart and love 100 percent."

Sam promised his teams will have fun and play hard - the way his high school coach, Jerry Hauck, taught the game.

He expects his teams to play defense like the way Terry Gregg's Tornado teams did through the late 1980s and mid-90s.

"There are some things you have no control over," Sam said. "You can't control whether the ball goes in the hoop. But you can play defense."

Sam began his coaching career at Shasta Junior High in the Bethel School District in Eugene, while finishing up work on a mathematics degree at the University of Oregon. He coached basketball and was the school's head track coach.

After graduation from Oregon, Sam taught and oversaw the basketball program at Fremont Junior High in Roseburg.

That's when he caught outgoing North Medford principal Don Lacey's eye.

Lacey said he was impressed at Sam's ability to relate to students when he hired him in 1991.

"He's done a great job on the court with kids, he's helped tremendously in cross country and golf," Lacey said. "I know what you're going to see is that it's Tim Sam's time."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4483, or e-mail gstiles@mailtribune.com