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Springate named new coach

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Derek Springate: If we aren't a contender for the regional tournament each year, I want that to be a disappointment

By Tommie Kendall

Inside the high school’s cafeteria Monday night, Athletics Director Todd Gilley announced Derek Springate as the new boys’ basketball coach at Henry County High School.

Springate, who was an assistant coach at West Jessamine last season, replaces Jason Holland, who left for Oldham County last month following five seasons at HCHS. After combing through all the applicants — including some impressive resumes — Gilley said Springate stood out the most.

“We’re tickled. We had a great lineup of coaches that applied and we thought he was the best fit,” Gilley said of the decision. “He has a very great basketball mind, a strong work ethic and a good personality. We thought the two (coach and players) would match up really well.”

Gilley said they had applicants that had head coaching experience and college experience. One coach won 20-plus games last season, and another has been regional runner-up five times. The fact that this is Springate’s first head coaching job shows how much he really did stand out above the rest. It is a gamble Gilley is willing to make.

“We had a tough decision but we thought he was the best,” said Gilley, who is also the HCHS head girls’ basketball coach. “He’s very dedicated and intense. As far as being driven, he doesn’t mind putting in the time. Also, his basketball knowledge itself is very high.”

Springate was told Saturday that the job was his — he will also be a high school health and physical education teacher — and made it official Monday with a meeting with his new players.

“From what I’ve seen and heard, Henry’s a team that nobody sleeps on anymore,” Springate said. “Coach Holland did a good job of getting them in the right direction. I have big shoes to fill but I want to get this team to the next level. I met the players on Monday and I’ve heard very good things about them so far.”

Springate graduated from Boyle County High School in 1999, playing all four years of basketball. He then played one season at Centre College, took time off, and later played two more seasons at Transylvania University. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 2006.

Between his playing days at Centre and Transy, Springate coached for two seasons at Boyle County as an assistant. He has been an assistant at West Jessamine the last three years.

“I knew about halfway through my high school career that I would end up being a teacher and a coach,” said Springate, whose mother was a secretary at a school. “I just knew I wanted to get into the coaching aspect of basketball.”

Last season, the West Jessamine Colts finished with an impressive 28-9 overall record, won the 46th District and 12th Region titles, and advanced to the semifinals of the KHSAA Boys Sweet Sixteen Basketball Tournament. At the state tournament inside Rupp Arena in Lexington, West Jessamine knocked out Hazard, 51-40, and Grayson County, 72-67, before losing to Central, 52-48, one game shy of reaching the finals. Central then lost to Holmes, 67-63, in double overtime for the championship. West Jessamine was led by head coach Robert Hammonds.

Springate said he applied for the Boyle County head coach opening before last season but was the second option. Then, this year, he applied for the West Jessamine opening after Hammonds resigned, but was the second option again. Holland advised him to look into the Henry position, he applied, and got the job.

“The last couple of years I’ve been wanting to get the chance to become a head coach,” Springate said. “I told people I wouldn’t apply for just any job just to have a job, and except for Boyle County and West Jessamine, I didn’t see anything else that interested me besides Henry County. I did some research, talked to some people and heard a lot of positives things about this program.”

When Springate arrived at West Jessamine three years ago, he said the Colts were in a similar situation as Henry. They ended up being one of the top teams in the entire state this past season.

“At the time (three years ago), West had been getting on track and we kind of built on that and tried to get them to the next level,” he said. “Once you get those players to buy into your system and accept their individual roles, it’s a lot smoother. At West we weren’t the most athletic group — we weren’t the fastest, tallest or quickest — but they knew their roles, which will take you farther than individual talent.”

As for the Henry County Wildcats, they are coming off a 22-9 season. They won two mid-season tournaments, won the 8th Region All “A” Classic to advance to the state tournament for the smallest 125 schools in Kentucky, finished runners-up in the 31st District and won their first game in the 8th Region tournament in exactly 20 years. At the regional tourney, Henry defeated South Oldham before losing to Shelby County in the semifinals.

That Shelby game — a 57-40 loss — was the final time Holland was on the Henry sideline with his decision to coach Oldham County next year. After turning Henry’s program from a 3-23 team in 2005 to 22-9 in 2009, he officially resigned his coaching position on May 22 with a meeting with both Henry and Oldham players on the same day.

“It was a tough decision in the fact that I’ve worked so hard to build Henry County and get the program going in the right direction,” Holland said at the time. “It’s hard to leave the kids and the people I’ve gotten close to. At this point in my life, I thought it was the best decision for me.”

During Holland’s tenure, the Wildcats accumulated a 63-76 record, advanced to the regional tournament twice and Holland was named regional Coach of the Year following the 2007 season. After his most successful season during his tenure, Holland decided to move over to Oldham.

Without a head coach, the Wildcats continued their off-season games with assistant varsity coach Rick  Schepman and Henry County Middle School eighth-grade coach Loren Jefferies temporarily taking over the team. The Cats went 1-2 at an Oldham County team camp, then went 9-3 at a Georgetown College team camp. The key players during those two camps were Connor Jeffries, Tommy Gray, Pete Baldwin, Spud Baldwin, Trevor Raisor, Dylan Smith, Lance Timberlake and Ryan Mitchell.

“I’m pleased with the way they’ve been playing,” Schepman said after the team arrived home from Georgetown last Monday. “They’ve played very well. I think the transition is still there, but they’re more comfortable with me running the same plays (the team ran with Holland). We didn’t want them to miss out on playing in the summer so we’re still trying to get some of those things done before the new coach arrives.”

That new coach was named one week later when Gilley introduced Springate as Holland’s replacement. Springate said Schepman will stay on as the head assistant.

As for goals, Springate said short-term goals are to improve each practice and each game up to the postseason, and long-term goals are to win the 31st District tournament, contend for the 8th Region tournament title and get to the state tournament. The Wildcats have not won a district title since the 1970s and have won the regional tournament just once — in 1962, the first year the county schools consolidated.

“The ultimate goal is to win the regional tournament and get to the state tournament,” Springate said. “I personally think we can set the expectations that high here. If we aren’t a contender for the regional tournament each year, I want that to be a disappointment.”

E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.