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'The only place I wanted to play': Monday, Sollars help grow Van Horn basketball program

By Bill Althaus
bill.althaus@examiner.net
Van Horn senior Jaden Monday puts up a shot under pressure from Truman defender Quincy Scott in a game earlier this season. Monday is averaging 24.1 points per game for the 12-7 Falcons.

This is the year Max Sollars and Jaden Monday have been waiting for since Sollars took over a struggling Van Horn High School basketball team and created a culture that thrives on teamwork, love and success.

He inherited a program that simply couldn’t find a way to get over the hump. In the nine years before he became the head coach, the Falcons were 58-160.

Over the past four years, with Sollars at the wheel and young stars like Monday joining the team, the Falcons are 9-16, 13-13 (conference champions), 16-11 and 12-7 this year.

They have been together four years and have totaled 50 wins – and this season is far from over.

Monday, who first met Sollars when he was a “skinny kid” at Nowlin Middle School, wanted to be a part of the changing culture at Van Horn.

“We’re growing up and Van Horn is winning seven or eight games a year, and my friends and I who played at Nowlin said we want to be the game changers, we want to be the difference makers,” said Monday, an explosive guard whose 24.1 points-per-game average ranks among the leaders in the metro area. He is also No. 1 with 5.1 assists per game and is averaging 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 steals per game.

Not bad for a “skinny kid.”

“Some kids may think, ‘I don’t want to be a part of a losing program,’ but I knew after talking to Coach Sollars while I was in middle school that he was going to be a difference marker.”

So did someone else in the school district. Independence School District Superintendent Dale Herl calls Sollars, “The right coach, at the right time, for the right school. You can just see how his players respond to him, and he responds to them.”

Sollars lives, eats, drinks and sleeps Falcon basketball. His love for his team is something he wears on his sleeve. He bleeds Falcon crimson and would do anything for any member of his squad.

Van Horn boys basketball coach Max Sollars watches as his team plays a game this season. Sollars has taken a program that was a consistent loser and turned it into a consistent winner.

“Oh, man, do I ever love to talk about my kids and Jaden Monday,” said Sollars, who is also one of the most popular coaches among his peers in Eastern Jackson County. “I was here a year before I became the head coach and I could tell that something special was about to happen with this program. I saw Jaden and some of the other eighth graders at Nowlin and knew how much they loved the game.

“But at the time, Jaden was a skinny kid who had the heart of a lion. I asked him if he wanted to come practice with the high school kids and he said, ‘Yes sir!’ And he was fearless.

“He was shy – he was only an eighth grader – but he was like a sponge. He took it all in, worked hard, got knocked around a little a bit, and came back for more.”

Monday chuckles when asked about those eighth grade days.

“All I wanted to do was play basketball,” said Monday, who has earned  a scholarship to play at Division II Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. “God’s plan was for me to come to Van Horn and play for Coach Sollars.

“Van Horn didn’t have the best reputation when I was a kid, and I didn’t know if I wanted to go there. But once I met Coach Sollars, I knew that was the only place I wanted to play.

“It’s funny how God works. I was a kid who didn’t know what he really wanted to do. I met Coach Sollars and we grew up together on the basketball court at Van Horn.”

And that time flew quickly, Monday said.

“And now I’m a senior. Man, it seems like it was just a year ago I was that kid at Nowlin looking forward to coming up and playing with the high school guys, watching Coach Sollars work and coach and learning what high school ball was all about,” he said. “Every day I thank God that I am a part of this school and this program. I thank God that Coach Sollars is my coach and I’m on this amazing team with all my brothers.

“I can’t imagine playing anywhere else, or playing for another coach. This is where I was meant to be and I can’t wait to see what happens the rest of this season.”