NEW CASTLE —
Ken Locke is coming home.
Well, technically, he never left — but he’s really back now.
Locke was hired as the Laurel High boys basketball coach last night by the Laurel School Board. The vote was 9-0 for Locke, who takes over after nine-year coach and current Laurel athletic director Mike Tinstman was not retained after the 2011-12 season. He will be paid $4,500.
Locke, an assistant coach at Neshannock High for the past 12 years, is a 1995 Laurel graduate who still lives in the Laurel district. He hopes to rebuild the Spartans, who are coming off seasons of 2-20 in 2011-2012 and 5-16 in 2010-11.
The position is the only one that could pull Locke, 35, away from Neshannock, he said.
“I was always very happy where I was at,” Locke said. “The coaching staff, the administration, the teachers, everything was great at Neshannock, and it was a very tough decision to leave. But, I’m from Laurel. I live in Laurel, and I’ve always wanted to be a head coach, and to have a chance to go back to your alma mater was hard to pass up. I wouldn’t have left for any other place.”
Now that he’s back, he has his work cut out for him. Laurel only has reached the playoffs twice in the past decade and didn't record a win in WPIAL Section 2-AA last season.
Locke said he’s up for the challenge, partly because of the passion he has to coach at his alma mater and also because of the experience and knowledge he acquired at Neshannock, where he worked under former Lancers coach Jim Smiley, who’s now at Sharpsville, for eight years and current Neshannock coach John Corey during the past four seasons.
“(Smiley) showed me some different fundamentals and a lot about preparation — the way he prepared for teams and the way he broke down game film, he really picked them apart,” Locke said. “(Corey) always had a great relationship with the kids. The way he interacts with them and the way he presents himself as a figure, he does a great job with that. He went over a lot of fundamentals and I just continued to learn from him. After learning from those two, I feel like I’m ready for today.”
Now comes the hard part: Changing the culture of a team with recent struggles.
Locke is confident the Spartans can turn things around, mainly because of the talent in the school. He’s heard about the football and baseball teams competing for WPIAL titles, and he’s seen the athleticism of their basketball team firsthand, so he knows the physical skills are there. It’s his job to make sure they believe a basketball revival is possible.
“The main thing is getting them excited for basketball,” he said. “I watched some of their game film — I wanted to see what I was getting into and what I might have coming back — and they have good athletes playing basketball, but they weren’t necessarily good basketball players. So we need to get them in the gym and show them some more fundamentals. We need to get them excited about basketball. I don’t know if that’s easy, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Locke, an account executive at Medical Source, got a taste of what it’s like to be a head coach this year when Corey suffered a stroke and was out nearly a month. Locke took over and went 3-1 during Corey’s absence. The experience gave Locke some reassurance.
“This year helped me prepare more as a head coach because I kind of got thrown into the fire,” he said. “I had an opportunity, not under the greatest circumstances with John getting sick, but those three weeks of preparing and running the team, it was a great experience. That gave me a little extra confidence.”
Hopefully his confidence is contagious because it’s one of the key ingredients his Spartans need, he said.
“I don’t know if they had the confidence level they needed at times (last year),” Locke said. “Winning breeds confidence. We’re going to have to learn how to win.”
NEW CASTLE —
Ken Locke is coming home.
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