Sports

New Kentlake boys hoops coach a mentor as well

Godfrey Drake wants to put the Kentlake boys basketball program on the map.

More than that, though, he wants his players to be successful, not just on the court but in life long after they stop playing the game.

“People don’t really view this as a basketball school,” Drake said. “I like the challenge of that. I’d like to give this school the visibility it deserves.”

Drake, a native of Jackson, Miss., had a meandering journey from playing as a swingman for the basketball team at Murrah High School in the late 1990s to planting roots in the Puget Sound.

He describes Murrah as one of the top basketball high schools in his home state. Drake played with Mo Williams, who is the point guard for the Utah Jazz. Williams is one of five boys basketball players from Murrah to go on to play at top tier college programs. After graduation, Drake had the option of going to Wisconsin as a guaranteed walk-on to the mens basketball team or a scholarship to University of Southern Mississippi.

“I went to Wisconsin for the first couple of weeks and it just wasn’t for me,” Drake said. “It was too cold for me.”

For a young man who had grown up in a place where it’s in the upper 60s and low 70s in mid-November, as it is this week, for it to be in the 50s in August, well that just didn’t work for Drake.

Unfortunately, he had taken too long to make his decision to leave Wisconsin. He left the chilly city of Madison, Wisc., and went to Southwest Mississippi Community College for a year and a half. When he finished there, he got a second chance.

“After that I did well enough for Southern Miss to come back into the picture again,” Drake said. “I played there for two years.”

He graduated from Southern Mississippi in 2004. Drake, who is 6-foot-3, played on a couple of traveling semi-pro teams before he suffered a severe back injury.

“I ended up having to get a lot of work on my back and was never really the same after that,” Drake said. “That’s when I ended up in Seattle. I saw that they had an air traffic control program at Green River (Community College). I decided on a whim to just come up.”

Tim Malroy, the mens basketball coach at Green River, was looking for an assistant coach at that time. Drake got the job then spent five years as the head assistant coach.

Drake’s coach at Southern Miss knew he had potential to become a leader on the sidelines someday.

“My college coach, James Green, always told me he knew I was going to be a coach because I was the player that questioned everything and had to watch film for hours and hours,” Drake said. “I was in (the film room) longer than they were. The coaches had to kick me out.”

Drake said Malroy affirmed that in a discussion they had about Drake’s future.

“He thought I was really ready to take over my own team, whether it be a college or a high school team,” Drake said. “After that the Kentwood job came open, the Tahoma job came open and the Kentlake job came open all at the same time. When I got here and met (Kentlake principal) Dr. Potts and talked with him I knew this was the place for me because he made me feel like this is the place to be.”

Bruce Rick, Kentlake’s athletic director, wrote in an email that Drake was the right man for the job, because he is a “man with the character, integrity, and work ethic that we think can take (Kentlake) basketball to a higher level.”

Kentlake’s boys basketball team has struggled in recent years. In the 2011-2012 season the Falcons made it to the playoffs but had to win a tiebreaker game to get there.

And the Falcons have not been to the state tournament since the school opened its doors in the fall of 1997.

“We could start a new tradition here and that’s what excited me the most, the possibilities are endless here,” Drake said. “The thing I would like to have happen, you know, you’ve watched ‘Hoosiers.’ You want that feeling of the Lake Sawyer Grocery store shut down, signs in the windows, ‘Gone to the game.’ This community out there could be that community. I feel like this community could support everything the kids here can do because the kids here deserve that attention.”

Drake does have some challenges ahead of him in this first season. He has one returning player from last year’s team that stepped foot on the court, sophomore Carson Stowell.

His young team is mostly juniors and sophomores with a couple of seniors who have played football but not played high school hoops.

Still, Drake has confidence in his players.

“I have a bunch of scrappy guys, though,” he said. “They are willing to get down and get dirty, they are not afraid to get down on the floor. I’ve got some guys who will set some hard screens and get after it. That’s exactly who I am, that’s how I played so we fit together.”

Drake plans to take advantage of the scrappiness of his players. He played tough defense and coached tough defense when he was at Green River, where the Gators had top five numbers in several defensive categories such as steals, turnovers forced and points allowed.

Expect the same at Kentlake.

“We like to play up and down, we like to press, we like to tire teams out,” Drake said. “We want to see if your team is deep enough.”

On offense, Drake said, he believe in balance. When an opponent scouts the Falcons, he said, he wants them to have a profile on every player because they can all contribute.

Offensively, the style is inspired by the Princeton system.

“There’s a lot of passes and cuts,” he said. “There will be a lot of movement going on.”

Though Kentlake hasn’t played a game yet, Drake knows experts and other coaches in the South Puget Sound League expect the Falcons to finish near the bottom of the North division.

“That excites me. People are doubting us or forgetting about us,” Drake said. “We have some guys are willing to change the outlook. I’m just about getting better, game in and game out. The SPSL is one of the toughest leagues around. You can’t overlook anyone.”

Drake, however, isn’t just about basketball at Kentlake.

“I wanted to be here and visible,” Drake said.

He is a mentor in the Check and Connect program. He spends time in classes working with students taking intervention courses. And he started a club called Men of Excellence.

“We’re establishing a culture particularly with the Men of Excellence club, job training, how to do job interviews, how to treat women, how to treat themselves … just to help them be well-rounded young men,” Drake said. “I want our guys to be viewed as respectable young men in the community before they’re viewed as athletes.”

And while he looks forward to transforming Kentlake into a basketball school, starting with changing the perspectives of the members of the school community, he also has high expectations for his players off the court and beyond their days at Kentlake.

“I want all of my guys to be able to leave here and go to college whether it be if they’re playing or not,” Drake said. “The next step is that everybody that plays for me, I want them to graduate and go on to a two year or four year college. That’s what we’re trying to change as well is that our athletes are student-athletes first and foremost.”

Drake’s journey to the Pacific Northwest from Mississippi has led to many happy accidents and wonderful side journeys. He met his wife here, with whom he has a 3-year-old daughter and a son who is nearly a year old.

On top of that, he’s landed his dream job, working with kids who may otherwise be invisible at Kentlake while spending his afternoons and evenings coaching boys basketball.

“I love what I’m doing right now,” Drake said.

 

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