I was able to meet with and interview many great Kentucky high school basketball coaches while researching for my book, How Sweet It Is. The experience proved to be so influential that it led me into the coaching profession. In an effort to learn the stories of more Kentucky hoops coaches, I am posting a series of email Q&As with a few of them as the 2019-2020 season gets rolling. From now until December 20, you can purchase copies of my aforementioned book for just $5 (75% off) through my publisher by clicking here. Thank you to Bourbon County Boys Head Coach Lamont Campbell for the responses below.
JV: You played for Kirk Chiles at Henry Clay and reached the Final Four of the 2033 Sweet 16. How would you describe Coach Chiles’ style? What that you learned from him do you use with your Bourbon County team presently?
LC: Coach Chiles had a unique way of coaching. He really challenged me and my teammates to think the game of basketball. He was great at counting possessions in games. He’d always ask things like “what’s your next three plays?” As a point guard things like that kept me focused on the game in its entirety. He really showed me how to manage teammates as well, to know their strengths and weaknesses. Things like that translate in the coaching world, knowing our players’ strengths and weaknesses and adjusting our style of play to fit our personnel. Coach was great at maxing out each player’s strength and we try to do that within our program.
JV: What was that Final Four run like? Being a right down the street from Rupp, was it as much of a party as it seems like it would have been?
LC: The final four run was truly a lifetime memory. Before the district tournament, Coach Chiles had stressed to us that we were now about to embark on a nine-game season if we wanted to be state champions. Once we won the region tournament at EKU, he stressed to us that anything can happen from point. That’s literally the way you play the game. There were highs and lows to each game, but no matter what you play hard and live with the results. That was something we lived by and stuck to and it took us on a wonderful run. Playing in Rupp is as surreal as it sounds. Us being a team from Lexington made it feel like even more of a home game with 20,000 people on your side. It’s so loud that it’s almost quiet on the court. So the whole tournament was just a great feeling.
JV: You spent time coaching at the college level prior to returning to coach high school. What is the biggest difference in how you interact with college kids as opposed to high school kids? Did you treat them differently, and how so?
LC: I think the biggest difference between the two is truly defined by how the athletes go about their everyday business of basketball. The college level brings a maturity that lets you truly just focus on developing the skills of basketball. The high school level requires a little more interest in the kid’s life. Both levels create a unique bond and personal relationships and both require the athlete to truly believe in you as a coach. I don’t think you treat them differently. The one thing I’ve tried to use in coaching over the years is love. Loving the development of each kid both on and off the court. If that love is there, then you are always thinking of the athlete’s best interest on and off the court.
JV: You were an assistant under Daniel Brown at Henry Clay prior to taking over at Bourbon County. Coach Brown is one of the more eccentric coaches I have met. How would you describe him to someone who has never met him?
LC: Coach was a young assistant when I was a player in high school, so I’ve known coach since I was 15 years old. I’ve been able to see him grow as a coach, knowing him for so long and then working with him. Coach Brown coaches his team with so much passion. It is kind of unique that I’ve also had a chance to watch his high school and college game tapes, and he played with that same passion and desire to win. His teams are always disciplined and play the game the right way.
JV: What did you learn from him that you use at Bourbon?
LC: Our system at Bourbon is very similar in a lot of ways to what is being done at Henry Clay. The Henry Clay tradition and ways are contagious so we’ve tried to adopt some of those mannerisms in our program and in our practices. Coach and I talk constantly in regards to new ideas and things to help the Bourbon County program continue to grow and be a success much like that of the Henry Clay tradition. The one thing both programs share is that we both emphasize playing together and playing hard. I think that’s a shared concept.
JV: Any good Coach Brown stories?
LC: I don’t think there’s enough time in the day. As I said I’ve known him 20 plus years now, so there’s a ton of stories. Our kids hang out, and we spend a lot of time together. I’ll tell you a unique thing about Coach Brown. Coach was the All-Time leading Scorer at Berea College until recently, but he also secretly holds a baseball record for best batting average in a season. That’s probably something he will never share, and will get on me for sharing it.
JV: Bourbon County seems like a great job because you get to live in Lexington but don’t have to compete in the 11th region. What about the job appealed to you the most?
LC: I think being 12 miles away from Lexington and being able to measure our program to those in Lexington really opened my eyes to the opportunity. The 10th region is very good, and it holds its own every year, so being able to get some out-of-region games against 11th region teams is always great preparation for our regional opponents. I also think being able to start something fresh and create our own buzz was truly something that inspired me to want to take on this opportunity.
JV: You are a full-time employee at the school now, but for a while you were working a day job in Lexington and then commuting out to Bourbon County High School just to coach. How difficult was that? What sacrifices did you have to make in order to do both?
LC: It was unique. Each day leaving a normal job and getting to school, checking grades and behaviors, then practice. That first year it was kind of difficult to build relationships with teachers. But it was fun, and a learning experience. I think the transition was probably needed for both the athletes and myself especially trying to establish discipline in the program. It made all of us go through discipline together.
JV: Biggest differences between coaching at Bourbon and coaching at Henry Clay?
LC: The Athletes is the obvious answer. Henry Clay is a city school with an enrollment of 2,200 kids. Bourbon County is a small town school with an enrollment of 850. So the average number of athletes walking around is different. The city schools truly look at sports as an outlet, and the small town schools invest a lot of their team in other areas. So it makes things interesting.
JV: What immediate changes did you make to the program upon arriving?
LC: I think the first thing we tried to attack was the discipline in the program. After that we had to change our workout strategies and how we went about our everyday business. Our overall approach had to change. I think you have to keep the kids optimistic about the future when doing this because upfront it just looks to them like things have gotten harder. But the reality is and was, this was building blocks for where we are today.
JV: What long term changes did you make that you are now starting to see pay off several years in?
LC: The first was investing in our own facility. For many years Bourbon County was a dark gym with a gray rubber floor. So we got a donation from a fan company and they provided new LED lights and (2) 18’ over head fans for cooling. After that we changed our floor to a brand new wooden floor and added six new baskets. Adding Under Armour gear into the fold has been a big game changer for apparel with our uniforms, both practice and games, as well as travel gear. So again, changes were made that really gave our team an optimistic view of the future in what this program would stand for.
JV: What is it like sharing the town with Paris High School?
LC: The other school. It’s unique because it’s such a small town. We are a school of 850 and they have an enrollment of about 200. The rivalry is real even in Walmart. So it’s fun, and it’s respectful. But there is definitely a line between the two.
JV: You all finally got rid of that hard floor in your gym that made my knees hurt just looking at it. Was that your idea?
LC: Not really my idea, but definitely something I mentioned in my interview needed to be done in order to help the program grow. That floor had a ton of history, but like anything it else with age it was time for a change.
JV: Describe the Paris-Bourbon County rivalry.
LC: It’s a true separation of City and County. Neither side really likes each other, but both sides respect each other. It’s separates families a lot of times. It’s a real thing. It’s as intense of a rivalry as I’ve ever seen or been apart of. It’s good to be on the winning side of the rivalry as we’ve won three out of the last five.