Troup coach ready for challenge

Published 3:54 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – It’s all about setting a standard.

A little more than a week ago, head coach Blake Craft led the members of the Troup boys’ basketball team through the first official preseason practice.

Craft, who for the past five seasons has been an assistant coach at LaGrange High, has taken over the boys’ program at Troup, and there has been a predictable feeling-out process.

“Right now, we’re trying to set the process in place of how hard we’re going to practice each day,” Craft said. “That’s the key right now, getting them to understand that we want to play fast, and play the right way. We’ve got too many athletes to play slow. And they’re starting to see it. They’re starting to see light bulbs go off. That’s what’s fun. That’s what the best part is right here.”

Craft has taken over for Paul Brewer, who remains at the school as a football coach but has handed over the reins to the basketball program.

Craft got to know many of the players during summer workouts, so he didn’t go into last week’s first practice as a stranger.

Still, Craft said there is still plenty of work to do when it comes to creating that bond between coach and players.

“The stuff we did this summer, it put us a little bit ahead, but we’ve still got a lot more work to do, and there were guys that weren’t there this summer,” Craft said.

Craft said one thing he’s pleased with is that every player seems eager to work and is committed to doing what he asks of them.

“That’s what we’ve noticed so far,” Craft said. “These guys, they’re very coachable. They want to do what’s right. It’s been fun, especially the first week. They haven’t had any attitudes. They’re buying in quick. And they’re having a good time. They’re having fun, and that’s the biggest part. You want the kids to have fun. You want them to want to be here.”

Craft, who played basketball at LaGrange College, gained valuable experience over the past five seasons.

He has not only been an assistant coach for the high-school team, but he was also the head boys’ coach at Gardner Newman Middle School.

Last season, Craft was an assistant on the LaGrange team that won a third consecutive region championship and reached the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

Craft is sure that everything he has done in his life has helped prepare him for this moment.

“I believe everything in my life has happened for a season,” Craft said. “In high school, I had four different coaches. In college, I had two different coaches. I’ve learned what to do, and what not to do. And I was raised by a coach. I’ve been built my entire life to be a coach.”

At LaGrange, Craft worked for two different head coaches, Mike Pauley and Mark Veal, and he’s grateful for the knowledge he gained from them.

“Coach Pauley and coach Veal, I learned a lot from them,” Craft said. “And coach Veal, he allowed me to more of a hands-on coach. I learned a lot of stuff from them.”

Craft inherits a veteran team that features one of Region 5-AAAA’s top players in senior point guard Jarrious Jefferson.

Other key returnees including Kobe Hudson, Montez Crowe and King Mwikuta, although they are all busy with football at the moment.

Those players helped the Tigers reach the state tournament last season after not making it for a handful of years.

Down the road, Craft believes the future is bright for the program, particularly with the presence of a talented freshman class.

“One of my favorite classes is my ninth-grade class,” Craft said. “It’s special. We’ll keep them together.”