SHERIDAN — Six-foot-eight Sergio Trocha — who moved to the United States to play basketball as a teenager, attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, to compete collegiately for the Bears and played in a Colombian national league and for the country’s national team — unsurprisingly coaches high school basketball with passion and dedication to his athletes and the game.
Honed by more than a decade of competitive experience, Trocha’s will to win led the Normative Services Academy, Inc. Wolves to the 1A State Championship tournament during his first year as the program’s head coach in 2015. The season stands out as one of Trocha’s favorite memories as a basketball coach, but the 34-year-old finds greater enjoyment in his daily interactions with NSI students and watching them transform during the school year and basketball season.
“My favorite part is seeing them smiling when they see me,” Trocha said. “... That’s my favorite part, to be able to bring out those emotions and happiness from the kids.”
Normative Services Academy, Inc., a Sequel Youth Services program, operates just outside of Sheridan as a private, nonprofit program offering residential treatment and educational services to Wyoming's adolescents with behavioral and emotional problems.
Most recently, Trocha returned to the NSI campus from a 10-day long vacation that overlapped with the holidays. When he walked through the campus’ buildings, saying hello to students he hadn’t seen for a week and a half, he delighted at the students and athletes alike greeting him with visible excitement. The smiles were returned with Trocha’s grin hidden behind his mask.
Trocha prioritizing discipline and respect during basketball practice, coupled with his commitment to stay “mellow” on the sidelines, leads to the Wolves learning life lessons, as well as developing ball-handling skills. Regardless of NSI’s record at the end of the season, Trocha knows coaching is more about wins and losses, especially for the Wolves.
“One of my things for coaching is just showing them you really care about them,” Trocha said.
The former professional player began to understand the importance of using basketball as an avenue to success off the court when he attended Rocky Mountain College. Trocha said he learned more from the Bears’ head coach who coached Trocha through life and not just on the basketball court.
Six years prior to graduating from Rocky Mountain College with a degree in kinesiology and exercise science, Trocha had journeyed to Texas from his home country of Colombia in 2006. He spent his senior year of high school playing on a basketball scholarship at Cornerstone Christian Prep School in San Antonio, Texas, then played at two junior colleges in the state before moving to Billings.
For two years after college graduation, Trocha continued to play as a center for four seasons with four Colombian basketball teams. He had competed for the Colombian national team as a teenager and played again for his country as a professional. His wife and youngest daughter, however, drew him back to the United States and to Sheridan.
In Dec. 2013, Trocha accepted the head basketball coaching position and served as a campus supervisor and program director at NSI for a couple months, before returning to Colombia for one final season as a professional. After the spring season in 2014, the longtime basketball player hung up his competitive shoes and transitioned to a full-time staff member for the Wolves.
“It’s a lot of work, but I like it,” Trocha said. “It gets me excited every single year and every season.”
Though the Wolves’ appearance in the state tournament during the 2014-15 season invigorated Trocha, his competitiveness has faded into the background as he sets an example for the NSI players. The head coach will only raise his voice when delivering positive remarks and speak calmly with the referees, wanting his student-athletes to follow his lead.
Working with a different group of players every year can present its challenges as other area schools often boast rosters of athletes who have played together for several years. But the process remains the same for Trocha — instill discipline and demand respect every year and see the student-athletes respond accordingly.
“Sometimes I end up doing more outside work than on the court,” Trocha said. “But I like the results.”
For an hour and a half five days a week, Trocha and assistant coach Kamal Muhammad start practice with dynamic stretches and a team huddle before working on offense or defense, depending on the day. Muhammad, who began teaching and working at NSI in October, said he and Trocha balance each other out as coaches.
“I’m a very passionate person, and he’s taught me you can be passionate and make sure your passion is well-worded,” Muhammad said.
The greetings exchanged when Trocha returned from his time off doesn’t surprise Muhammad, as he sees daily the affinity the Wolves have for their head coach. The assistant coach said Trocha’s sense of humor and calm demeanor lends itself to both the on-court and off-court success they strive to see from the Wolves.
“They respect him,” Muhammad said. “They know that he cares. He wants them to play the game as best as possible with teamwork and sportsmanship.”
Five years have passed since NSI’s appearance at the state championship basketball tournament, and six have ticked by since Trocha played professionally, but when he receives an email or a Facebook message from a former student or watches a student-athlete graduate, the hours spent setting aside his competitiveness pays off.
“We can lose every game, but as long as we stay together and don’t quit, don’t get into fights — that’s what I’m looking for,” Trocha said. “I want to see that at the end of the season, whether we lose every game or not.”