by Larry Ham
I remember clearly the first time I saw Todd Croissant on a basketball court. It was probably 1991 or 1992 during warm-ups for a game at the Immanuel High School Gym. Todd was a freshman, playing on the varsity—a very rare thing then, as it is now. My first impression was, “this guy belongs on a basketball court.” He had a presence that only a handful of gifted people possess. Clapton with a guitar. Ayrton Senna in a race car. Todd Croissant with a basketball.
Well, here we are almost two decades later, and Todd Croissant has come full circle. He’s back where he belongs—on the Immanuel High basketball court, as the new head coach of the Eagles Boys Varsity team. It’s been a difficult year for the team, with a lot of losses, but they’ve hung in there—and so has Todd. I recently had a chance to talk with him about his life—both on and off the basketball floor.
Larry: Tell us about your roots—where you grew up.
Todd: I grew up in Dinuba as a country boy but had strong ties to the town of Reedley. As a very young child, my parents owned Reedley Trading Post so I spent much time walking up and down the streets of town with my older sister, Deniele. During my childhood, I had to work on my family’s farm with my father, Ed. My family also owned Croissant Auction, where I found myself doing odds and ends type of jobs, like running tickets, barbecuing hamburgers, moving furniture and boxes, and, later, as the auctioneer. I attended Grand View Elementary, Washington Junior High, and then I began Immanuel High School, graduating in 1995.
Larry: When did you start to get interested in basketball?
Todd: I was one of those kids who always had a ball in his hands. Whether it was a baseball, soccer ball, football, or basketball, sports were one thing that I loved and had fun with. It was around the age of ten that I began to show more interest in basketball. It was something that I could walk outside and play by myself for hours on end. Living in the country, I couldn’t get the kids on the block to start up a baseball game or go out and practice throwing and catching a football. But I could go out and shoot, over and over again.
My sister is five years older than I am so I was always able to play basketball with her friends. This made me familiar with Immanuel High and the basketball staff. I began to attend many basketball camps, including Coach Jon Thiesen’s camps and practiced alongside the high school team. During junior high my game started to pick up and I began to grow into my body.
A love for the game grew inside of me and the game came easy. God blessed me with quickness and the ability to jump, but shooting took more effort and skill. I had to work hard to put everything together. By the time I reached high school, I made the varsity team in basketball my freshman year.
I was so nervous that first game as we played against Kingsburg but I knew I deserved to be playing at the varsity level. That first game I was able to push my nerves aside and ended the evening with a triple double (double digits in points, assists and rebounds).
Larry: I know it’s been a while since your high school days, but looking back, are there any players or games that really stick out as highlights? You played on some really good teams back then.
Todd: I loved playing ball with all of my teammates. I think instead of specific and individual players that stand out in my mind, there are particular games that I remember most. Some of the games were great and some where heartbreaking. I remember beating Kerman in overtime to win the Immanuel Holiday Invitational Tournament. I also remember losing Valley my senior year to Central Valley Christian. We had the best team my junior year and we were the Southern Section State runner-up. There are many more wonderful memories, but I can’t list them all.
(Writer’s note: I remember the Kerman game as well. It was one of the first Immanuel games I broadcast on KRDU radio. It was an incredibly exciting game, and Todd was fantastic.)
Larry: You graduated from Immanuel in 1995 as the all-time leading scorer in school history. In 2003, Jacob Wild broke your record. I know you and Jake are good friends, but if you two played a one-on-one match today, who would win?
Todd: That is tough one. Jacob Wild and I had a great relationship as I assisted in coaching him his years at Immanuel. He and I had a running joke about who was going to have/keep the leading scorer title. I was proud to be one of the first to congratulate him as he walked off the court the night he took my title away.
If we were to go head-to-head now, I think it would be a toss up. Even with me being eight years his senior, I think I might have a chance. Maybe I should call him up and challenge him to a little one-on-one. That would be a lot of fun.
Larry: Did your basketball career continue after high school?
Todd: I attempted baseball at Fresno City, then I moved on to basketball at Fresno Pacific but college wasn’t exactly my specialty. Although I loved playing ball, I just didn’t love school, so I began looking for a career while still auctioning for my father’s business.
At the age of twenty-three I began working for Kings River Tractor, Inc. in downtown Reedley where I am currently the sales manager and vice-president of the company. I played four or so years in the Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church men’s basketball league but two knee surgeries and a future knee replacement surgery has kept me from competing on the court.
Larry: I’ve watched a lot of basketball games and I will say that, in my opinion, your coach at Immanuel, Jon Theisen, is the best coach I’ve seen at the high school level. With the coaching bar set that high, what are your aspirations as Immanuel’s coach?
Todd: I would have to agree that Jon Thiesen was the best coach Immanuel has had. He has been a mentor for me since my freshman year in high school and still is someone that I confide in and receive advice from regularly.
I find myself striving to bring back the winning tradition that Immanuel basketball, and Jon Thiesen, are so well known for. From the team’s code of ethics to the style of play, you are able to clearly see which man has helped mold me into the coach that I am today. Everyday I try to help these boys, not only on the court but also off the court, to grow into men and honor our Heavenly Father the way that I was taught by Coach.
Larry: The circumstances under which you became the boy’s varsity coach at Immanuel were strange, to say the least. What was your reaction when you were approached about becoming the coach?
Todd: What? You’re out of your mind. I can’t do this, I don’t have time. While I knew that logistically, I couldn’t possibly find the time to coach, I also knew that this was a dream I had always wanted. The first two days I had to decide about whether or not I would take the position, I was 90% “No way” and 10% thinking “How much fun would it be…”
I of course had to discuss it with my wife and family and then I went to Jon Thiesen. It wasn’t until I was on the way to a family vacation that I decided to take on the challenge and give coaching a shot.
Larry: If you look strictly at the win column, this season has been pretty rough. But what are some of the positives you’ve seen this season?
Todd: This season has had its fair share of ups and downs. It’s been a growing year and we were all thrown into a situation we were not expecting. My assistant coach, Jon Parbst, and I met the boys on a Monday and we had our first game the next day in Woodlake. We walked away with a win my first game as a head varsity coach. It has been an uphill battle since that first game but we (the team and coaches) have been able to learn from each other. As coaches and players we are learning to work through adversity.
Larry: Will your run as head coach at Immanuel extend beyond this season?
Todd: I promised my wife we would reevaluate the coaching position after one season. If it didn’t work for our family, Immanuel, or me I would only coach the one year. I would love to continue coaching as long as it works for my family and work schedule.
Larry: Finally, Todd, tell us about that great family we see sitting in the stands.
Todd: My wife, Leslie, and I married in August 2002. We had our first son, Christian, in 2006. Our daughter, Averie, was born in 2008. We live in Reedley and Leslie teaches second grade at Great Western School. My wife and children have been very supportive and devoted to me and Immanuel basketball. They have been to almost every game this season cheering our team on.
In Mark, Chapter 6, Verse 4, Jesus said, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Thomas Wolfe put it this way: “You can’t go home again”. Todd Croissant has proven that you can go home again, and do it honorably and successfully.
Will he continue as Immanuel’s coach? Only time will tell. I sure hope he does. He is as close to an icon at Immanuel as anyone can be. And when you see him on the sideline, imploring and encouraging his players, it’s just like it was in his playing days – he belongs.