Villebrun named 2023 MN Girls’ Basketball Assistant Coach of the Year

Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe member John Villebrun was named the 2023 Minnesota Girls’ Basketball Assistant Coach of the Year at Mt. Iron Buhl High School in Mountain Iron, MN. (Photo courtesy of John Villebrun.)

By Dan Ninham

John Villebrun was named the 2023 Minnesota Girls Class A Basketball Assistant Coach of the Year, and the 2023 Assistant Coach of the Year for Section 7A by the Minnesota Girls Basketball Coaching Association. He is an enrolled member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. He is the Assistant Girls Basketball Coach at Mountain Iron-Buhl High School, the 2023 Minnesota Class A State Girls’ Basketball Champions.

Villebrun started his coaching career as an assistant coach for the Orr HS girls’ basketball program and coached there for five years. He was also the head girls’ basketball coach at AlBrook High School for three years and the head boys’ basketball coach at the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School for one season.

“I started helping out at Mountain Iron-Buhl HS when we moved to the area. I started coaching in the elementary program and eventually worked my way up to the assistant coach,” added Villebrun.

Villebrun was the assistant coach for the 2023 State Class A Champions, Mountain Iron-Buhl Rangers. He has been an assistant coach there since 2019. The Rangers have been to the state tournament four of the last five years that he has been a coach.

“I feel that one of my biggest accomplishments is being able to make an impact on the athletes that I coach,” said Villebrun. “To be able to help our players grow as individuals and as basketball players is something that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Indigenous coaches not only represent themselves, their family, school and community. They also represent other indigenous people and especially when they compete at the state tournament and oftentimes being featured on television broadcasts.

“I am proud to be native,” said Villebrun. “It is an honor to be able to represent our people as a coach in a very successful basketball program. I think about where I came from and all of the hard work that got me to this position of being a teacher and coach. I am always aware that I represent our people and it makes me proud.”

Villebrun thinks team first. He said, “I’ve always wanted to be a coach that my players could trust and respect. I would like to think I have earned that from every single player I’ve ever coached.”

“Being a coach here at Mountain Iron-Buhl HS, we are not only the varsity and junior varsity teams, but we also spend a lot of time in the gym coaching elementary teams,” said Villebrun. “I think as a coach it is important for the younger grades to see the varsity coaches working on all levels and being willing to help on all levels.”

“Here at Mountain Iron-Buhl we have a philosophy that includes helping every student athlete in the program no matter what. We work long hours to make sure that every student that wants to play basketball at Mountain Iron-Buhl has that opportunity and has a coach that is willing to work with them. This is the foundation of our championship culture here,” added Villebrun.

Coaches are inspired by those who came before them to lead the way. One of Coach Villebrun’s influences is a fellow Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe member.

“One of the biggest inspirations for me as a coach was Bill King,” said Villebrun. “I was fortunate enough to be a player for him as well as the opportunity to coach with him when I coached the Orr girls’ basketball team. He came in a few times to practice to help us with certain aspects of the game and I learned so much from him.”

“What I respected about Coach King was not only his knowledge of the game of basketball but he was always a leader for the indigenous community near Orr. He really was a trailblazer for all native coaches that followed behind him. He still comes to our games here at Mountain Iron-Buhl and I always make it a point to go over shake his hand and visit with him,” added Villebrun.

Coach John Villebrun is a part of the championship culture that is continuing to be cultivated at Mountain Iron Buhl HS.