Worn down by raising money for institutions of higher learning and not getting to see any of it used to improve his programs, former University of Kentucky standout Dale Brown left the college ranks to spend more time running basketball camps to help high school kids improve their skills.
But the ex-Cat has always wanted to coach boys’ high school basketball in Kentucky. Brown’s dream will come to fruition when he takes the sidelines for Eminence this fall.
Eminence, located in Henry County and the state’s 39th smallest school by total enrollment in 2015-16, has played in only three state tournaments; its last was in 1949. The Warriors have averaged 9.5 wins over the last 10 seasons, only twice finishing above .500 in that time. They’ve reached two 8th Region Tournaments since 2000 and have come up with no district titles in that span.
Where some might see a bleak picture, Brown sees space to paint a Mona Lisa. As he does with all his programs, Brown will install a “run, press and shoot style of play” just like the system Rick Pitino used to lift Kentucky back to the pinnacle of college basketball in the early ’90s.
“Rick Pitino is a bad man. I love that dude to death,” Brown said. “Everything I do in my practice comes from Pitino, Billy Donovan, Tubby Smith and a lot of what Herb Sendek used to do. … All four of those great coaches are what I’m bringing to the program.”
Following a period of tragedy — his father and mother died within a month of each other — Brown’s life choices sent him in a downward spiral. The connections he built at UK, where he was Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 and 1993, eventually inspired him to finish his degree and begin coaching basketball.
A quick stint in the World Basketball Association gave way to an assistant coaching gig at what was then Pikeville College before head coaching jobs at Moss Point High School in Mississippi, Dillard University in Louisiana and Clark Atlanta, a Division II school in Georgia.
In some ways, Eminence reminds Brown of Moss Point.
“I turned that around from 13-18 to 32-6, the best record in school history and a spot in the state championship game,” Brown said of Moss Point, which has produced some of Mississippi’s most notable players: Litterial Green, Melvin Booker and his son, ex-Cat and current Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker.
Brown is excited that he’ll get to coach his son, Dale Brown Jr., a freshman-to-be whom he believes is going to be a special player. It’s also just a nice opportunity to be back in the Bluegrass State, be around a lot of friends from back during his playing days — when Dick Vitale dubbed him “Downtown Dale Brown” because of the distance from which he hurled three-pointers — and to make an impact on young people’s lives, he said.
It’ll all start with conditioning.
“I’m gonna get my teams in better shape than any team in the country,” Brown said. “I didn’t say the state; I said the country.”
Wright resigns at Southwestern
Steve Wright, who stepped down as the boys’ basketball coach at Southwestern on April 11, felt like now was the best time to take a breather and examine the career options before him.
He didn’t want to leave Southwestern — which he led to its only region title and the state semifinals in 2012 — hanging in limbo. In five years he lead the Warriors to a 121-41 record. Said Wright:
“I really just didn’t want to be hanging around here, acting like I was coming back when maybe I wasn’t. I just didn’t think that was fair. You’ve gotta know when it’s time to go. A lot of coaches don’t know that and they get themselves in trouble. And I just felt like five years was enough here. ... Southwestern has been great to me and I wanted to be fair to them.”
Wright, 59, was an assistant eight years before a 30-year head coaching tenure that featured stops at Walton-Verona, Laurel County, South Laurel and Southwestern. He led South Laurel to its only Sweet Sixteen title in 2005. His career record is 697-247, the win total eighth most in state history
He doesn’t believe he’s done coaching, either.
“I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am,” Wright said. He’s considering a leap to the college ranks as well as taking another position in high school. The wisdom that’s come with age has helped adjust his perspective on coaching and afforded him more professional leeway.
“I think when you get older you’ve earned that right to do that a little bit,” Wright said. “I’ve never really acted like coaching’s a job. I’ve always really felt like it was a calling. ...
“This job’s not easy but I sure have enjoyed it and hope that I can continue.”
Softball first, then prom
Scott County’s softball tournament last weekend brought some of the state’s best programs to Georgetown. The Cardinals’ two games on Saturday morning ran into the afternoon, which wasn’t a big deal except for the fact that the school’s prom was that evening at Georgetown College.
Senior outfielder Sydney Motell once missed a prom because of a conflict with a tournament. She helped the Cardinals split games with Male (9-8 win) and McCracken County (5-1 loss) before rushing off to get ready for the night.
Motell likened the intense preparation for the dance — shower, hair, makeup, etc. — to preparing for a big game. Adding games against top-five opponents into that mix beforehand?
“You just plan around it,” she said. “Softball’s first. You just have to push it out of mind and once the game’s over it’s like ‘Prom!’”
▪ Lexington Catholic, Lexington Christian and Tates Creek all recently held signing ceremonies for senior athletes bound for the next level. They were:
LexCath: Keylea Brothers (Southern Connecticut State, gymnastics); Trey Carney (Tusculum, lacrosse); Cooper Collins (Morehead State, golf); Lindsay Everett (Centre, swimming); Matthew Herrington (Georgetown, football); Alana Hughes (Centre, soccer); Jaylen Jones (Centre, football); Matthew Ko (Centre, tennis); Stevan Kriss (Washington and Lee, lacrosse); Austin Madry (Cumberlands, baseball); JJ Ogbogu (Georgetown, football); Kate Pierce (North Carolina, rowing); Noah Tubridy (Centre, football); Mitchell Wheeler (Centre, lacrosse)
LCA: Jax Blair (Eastern Kentucky, baseball); Trevor Hill (Samford, basketball); Neil Lumm (Asbury, soccer); Aaron Wier (Morehead State, track and cross country)
Tates Creek: Jensen Butler (Florida College, soccer); Julia Loveday (North Carolina-Asheville, volleyball); Kyle Sprague (Western Kentucky, cross country)
▪ The Paducah Sun reported that McCracken County’s Bailey Vick, an outfielder-turned-catcher for the Mustangs’ softball team, will join the University of Kentucky as a preferred walk-on in the fall. McCracken County is ranked No. 1 in the state and 14th in the nation.
▪ Paul Laurence Dunbar soccer goalkeeper Travis Shuler signed with Lindsey Wilson on Thursday.
▪ Jaycey Fite, who helped Lewis County’s girls’ basketball program to its first three district titles during her career, has signed with Midway College.
▪ Powell County’s Destiny Peck, who scored more than 1,300 points for the Pirates, signed with Kentucky Christian last week.
▪ Sacred Heart has hired Brett Versen as its new volleyball coach. Versen, also club director for the Mid-America Volleyball Academy in Louisville, was an assistant at the University of Kentucky and James Madison before becoming the head coach at North Oldham. He guided the Mustangs to two state tournaments and a 52-17 record in two seasons.
Versen played volleyball at Ohio State, one of 22 schools to sponsor an NCAA Division I men’s program. While there he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, for which he underwent two separate surgeries. He has been in remission ever since.
▪ Tara Weddle has taken over the girls’ basketball program at Casey County. Weddle, who helped the Rebels reach the region finals in 2008, inherits one of the youngest rosters in the state. Last year five of Casey County’s top nine players were eighth-graders and two were freshmen. Gena Cravens, one of the eighth-graders, led the Rebels with 10.6 points per game.
Weddle was a second-team All-American as a senior at Kentucky Christian, which won four National Christian College Athletic Association championships during her time there from 2008-09 to 2011-12.
▪ Asbury lacrosse sophomore Brandon Smoot, who played at Paul Laurence Dunbar, was named to the Appalachian Athletic Conference First Team on Saturday.
The Eagles went 4-7 with a 2-4 conference record in their first season in the AAC. Their best win of the season came when they defeated St. Andrews, the top team in the conference and then ranked No. 4 in NAIA, 9-8 in overtime on April 3.