Gregory named February Coach of the Month
Aaron Gregory jumped feet first into life at Collegiate. In his first year as an upper school social studies teacher, he also has taken the opportunity to sponsor the Model United Nations team, as well as take the reigns as the assistant junior varsity boys basketball coach. With a new basketball program at Collegiate, he and head coach Toni Jones turned in an ambitious season with a new team that managed to play 27 games this season.
He spoke to us about the honor of being February’s Coach of the Month, as well as the opportunities that came with this year’s team. Here is what he had to say:
What do you teach at Collegiate?
I teach social studies in the upper school, which includes U.S. History, A.P. U.S. History, International Relations and Economics. I also sponsor our Model United Nations team.
How did you come to coach basketball at the school? Did you have previous playing experience that prepared you for coaching? If so, what?
I had been an assistant varsity basketball coach for five years and a JJV assistant for two, so I knew I wanted to help with basketball in some way at Collegiate. This year, I wanted to work with JVs because I thought the game/travel schedule would be a little lighter, which would help keep me from getting overwhelmed in my first year at a new school. I played basketball in school for two years, but I stopped playing after I started teaching piano lessons. Basketball was always my favorite sport, and I did everything I could to stay around the game: working clocks, announcing, officiating in college and playing pick-up games with friends as often as possible.
What were some of your goals for the team this year?
Coming in as a totally new face, it took some time for me to figure out what our program expectations were. I know Collegiate has a great basketball tradition, but I wasn't sure how much was traditionally expected of JVs, and if those expectations would change with the new varsity coaching staff coming in. In the end, I think we wanted our JV guys to win basketball games, sharpen individual skills, generate good team chemistry and lay a foundation for future success at the varsity level. All of those goals could probably be summarized as "Do better than anyone thought we would do this year."
Did you achieve the goals?
I think we did overall. We played a lot of games (27), arguably more than appropriate for our level. Over Christmas break, we played three games in a 24-hour period. But the players worked hard through that schedule, won eight games this season, and showed us a lot of good that we have to look forward to in the near future of Norfolk Collegiate basketball. Coach Jones and I are already worrying about which of our players (even the ones still eligible for JV next year) will get pulled up to varsity because of how well they played for us this year.
What were you most proud of your team for achieving this season and why?
The impression I got early on was we were not expected to do a lot of winning this year (JV or varsity). And even if 8-19 isn't the best record an Oaks team has ever put up, I'm proud of every one of those wins our JV guys earned. I can't think of any "bad" team we played this year. Everyone was our equal or better. So none of those wins were really handed to us ̶ our guys worked for every one of them and, for some observers, we won eight more games than expected.
Is there one piece of advice that was given to you that you hope to pass along to your student-athletes?
My high school basketball coach (who was also our headmaster) always told us that basketball teams can run patterns, plays or principles. Patterns and plays are just routine movements or decisions which a good opponent can shut down after seeing you do it once or twice (like always tight-cutting off a screen). But he always made his players learn all the possible ways to attack in a two-on-two situation or three-on-three, etc., including the tight-cut, and know when best to use each possible attack. "When the defense is overplaying here, I attack this way. But when they're giving me space there, I attack that way instead." That's playing the game based on principles. That's way better than "I'm always going to use this move from this spot, because that's the play we're running." Playing on principles requires a lot of basketball knowledge, maybe too much to demand of middle school and JV guys, so this year we did mostly rely on plays and patterns. But I still emphasize principles when I'm coaching the JVs because that's what they will need to be successful when they reach varsity.
What was the biggest challenge for your team this year?
Coach Jones was stuck out of town one time, so I had to fill in as the head coach when we played at Nansemond-Suffolk. We were down 20 points in the second half. This was January, and we hadn't put in a really solid "catch-up" defense for JVs yet. So Coach Burrough came over to the bench and handed me his court-board (for drawing plays) in case I wanted to draw anything up for the players. I decided to show them the setup for a 1-2-1-1 pressure defense. They ran it perfectly, forced a lot of turnovers, and we came back and tied that game up to force overtime. They were also able to run my high school coach's "last shot for the win" play at the end of overtime, after seeing me draw it up for the first time during a timeout right before we ran the play. They ran it exactly right and we were able to get a look for the winning shot — the shot just didn't go in. To see them fight back from that kind of deficit and execute plays on the fly like that was really rewarding for me as a coach, especially in my first game in that role.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to? Why?
You can probably tell from my other answers that, as a coach, I admire my high school coach a lot. Benny Vaughan really did things the right way in practices and games, and I learned a lot from him about managing players' personalities, especially in the three years I spent as his assistant. He's actually retiring this year after over 40 years coaching. I also learned a lot about X's and O's and accountability from Coach James Pelham at Fork Union Military Academy. Off the court, I would definitely recognize David Hindman, my campus minister at William & Mary. He helped me clarify a lot of my values in college and contributed a lot to the person I am today.
When not coaching basketball, what do you enjoy doing or what is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
Like most teachers, I like reading. I also like music (singing, playing the piano), movies, watching college sports, spending time with my family and doing genealogical research.