Garner High boys basketball coach Eddie Gray says that he is a football coach who coaches basketball.
“I’m a football coach, always have been. I just happen to coach basketball,” he said, as he grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
But he also says that he is a teacher who uses coaching to help students. He plans to teach longer than he plans to coach.
As a coach, he is all energy. It is the same electricity he had when he had charge of linebackers and served as a defensive coordinator.
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But there are different ways to coach and different paths into coaching.
Gray never intended to be a coach, but he has been Garner’s basketball coach for 26 years. Sherry Norris, the coach of the Chapel Hill girls basketball team, never played high school sports. She was a cheerleader. Southeast Raleigh’s Nicole Meyers didn’t play basketball until she was in the 10th grade. But all three have teams in NCHSAA state championships on Saturday.
A different path
Gray graduated from Garner in 1970 and later from N.C. State with degrees in political science and history. His plan after college was to become a teacher. He was hired as a social studies teacher at his alma mater and turned to coaching when he was asked to help out.
He saw the influence a teacher could have a student’s life, and learned how a coach can get to to know students on a deeper level.
“I love coaching, but the reason I still do it is that I love the kids,” he said. “That’s the part that I would miss if I wasn’t coaching.”
He was an assistant coach to J.C. O’Neal, who believed basketball games are won with defense, and was an assistant football coach under Hal Stewart, who believed football games were won with emotion and desire. Gray learned from both.
He has a winning percent of almost 70 percent (452-202) and his basketball teams have won 14 conference championships in 26 years.
Few coaches in the state can match the all-star team that he could assemble from players he helped develop, including All-NBA stars David West and John Wall, NCAA Final Four MVP Donald Williams and international player James Mays.
But he still sees himself as a teacher who coaches rather than a coach who teaches. He was his school’s teacher of the year for the 2007-08 school year. He cherishes that award as much as any plaque or trophy he’s won on a basketball court.
Returning to campus
While everyone in Saturday’s high school basketball championships are happy to reach the finals, veteran Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris is especially glad to have her team playing in Carmichael Auditorium.
“I have a lot of happy memories of Carmichael,” said Norris, who watched some of North Carolina’s best teams play there when she was an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“I’ve always wanted to play a game and win a championship in Carmichael. It’s been many years since the state championships have been there. Now we’re getting that opportunity.”
It was at UNC that Norris began her transformation from a Bladenboro High School cheerleader, into a teacher and one of the state’s most successful coaches.
Norris retiredlast spring from the classroom after 37 years of teaching.
“It’s nice being retired,” she said. “When you’re done with your coaching duties you can just go home. You don’t get stressed preparing to teach eight to nine classes the next day.”
Norris has 540 basketball wins, and was named AP’s 2014 girls basketball coach of the year for North Carolina, after leading the Tigers to a 32-0 record and its second state championship. She also had coached the school’s volleyball team to a state record 732 wins and two state championships.
But with all the wins and accolades, Norris remains a teacher at heart.
“That’s what I’ll always do,” she said. “It’s important to be able to break things down for your team, show them how it works and then put it all back together in a game.”
She’s very proud of her current players.
“They’re the best I’ve ever had,” Norris said. “And I’d rank them at the top with any other team in the state in any sport.”
Teaching the basics
Nicole Meyers was a 6-foot tall freshman at Rocky Mount High School who doesn’t remember touching a basketball before basketball Pam Gainey spotted her.
Gainey talked to her about playing basketball and began teaching her the basics.
“With Pam, it was all about fundamentals,” Meyers recalled. “This is the way you do it every time. You have to have the discipline to do it the right way every time.”
Meyers played as a sophomore and progressed enough to earn a basketball scholarship to UNC Asheville in 1997.
She loved the game, but coaching wasn’t a part of her plans. She wanted to go into social work. Eventually, she rejoined Gainey at Rocky Mount.
Meyers is consumed by the game.
“I have to remind myself that I need to have a life beyond basketball,” she said.
She will study game film four or five hours a day, looking anything that might give her team an advantage. She watches tape of her team, her opponents, college teams or any place where she thinks she can pick up something that will help her club.
“My whole coaching philosophy reflects Pam,” Meyers said. “When she was teaching me how to play, she’d tell me that you don’t have to be an all-America to be successful. You do have to do the little things the right way.”
N.C. High School Athletic Association basketball championships
At the Smith Center
Noon: 2A girls: Kinston (19-10) vs. Wilkes Central (25-4)
2:30 p.m.: 2A boys: Kinston (25-4) vs. East Lincoln (24-0)
5 p.m.: 4A girls: Southeast Raleigh (26-3) vs. Charlotte Myers Park (28-1)
7:30 p.m.: 4A boys: Garner (27-1) vs. Charlotte Ardrey Kell (28-1)
At Carmichael Arena
Noon: 1A girls: Riverside (Martin County) vs. Winston-Salem Prep (23-3)
2:30 p.m.: 1A boys: East Carteret (27-2) vs. Winston-Salem Prep (20-7)
5 p.m.: 3A girls: Chapel Hill (24-2) vs. Hickory (26-0)
7:30 p.m.: 3A boys: Fayetteville Sanford (26-3) vs. Gastonia Ashbrook (23-3)