By Jon Garrett
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE They say adversity builds character. If that is true then the Copperas Cove boys basketball team should have a surplus for the upcoming season.
Over the last 23 months the Bulldawgs have gone through three coaching changes, and dealt with everything from players quitting in mid-game and coaching suspensions to a sex scandal involving a relationship between former head coach Chris Graham and a student that led to his resignation.
And, though not nearly as consequential or detrimental when compared to the off-court happenings, things on the court haven't been all that pleasant for Cove either. The team has posted a cumulative record of 13-44 the last two seasons, and gone 0-20 in district play.
It's the kind of thing that can sink into a program's psyche and destroy it.
New coach Jay Parker has made it his mission to make sure that never happens to the Dawgs.
"There are not that many new faces (around). As a matter of fact, we probably lost more players just from the fact that I'm a strong disciplinarian. I think that's important to a program," said Parker, a Tarleton State graduate who began his career at Lampasas before taking off for the Arlington area to be closer to family residing in Weatherford. "We've done a lot of house-cleaning. And I think that has shown the kids that we're in for a change.
"The old regime is out. The new regime is in, and the kids have responded well."
Parker, a former top assistant at Arlington Sam Houston now in his first head coaching job, plans to turn Cove around by restoring its confidence.
"We've just been trying to build some pride, some unity ... all of those things," he said. "I think we are coming together and that just comes from hard work, and we don't lack for hard work."
That rebuilding process, along with the fact that the Dawgs play in what appears to be a tough District 13-5A, may be why the coach has kept the team's goal simple for this year.
"Our goal is to be competitive and win a district game," he said. "I think if we do that we've been successful and are heading in the right direction."
Reaching that goal may not exactly be easy for Cove. Last year's leading scorer, first-team all-district selection Jermon Marsh is now playing for Hardin-Simmons. And 6-foot-7 shooting guard Joe Solomon is in the American Southwest Conference as well, playing for LeTourneau.
Their departure leaves some big gaps for Parker to fill, but he is confident that the talent he has can form the basis for a strong team in Jeff Russell, Cody Williams, Roberto Davis and Quenton Kirby.
"Those are going to be three to four of our top players," Parker said.
Russell, a junior, will most likely start at point for the Dawgs. Parker described him as a hard worker and nice shooter. Parker said 6-4 senior post Williams has made some incredible gains in the weight room over the summer and will start or at the very least be a key backup. Returning 6-4 post and 13-5A honorable mention selection Davis is currently helping anchor the offensive and defensive lines for Cove's district champion football team.
A second team all-district selection as a sophomore a year ago, Kirby is working in at point guard and Parker expects big things from him.
"It's nice having a kid that size. He's 6-3, strong, and he maxed 465 on his squat this past week," the coach added.
In addition to the four, Parker said he saw plenty of potential in the team, some of which, like Davis, are still spending time on the football field.
"The good thing is that of the seven I have (working out now), five are juniors. So, that's a positive. The other two are seniors. We're fairly young," Parker said. "Two of the guys we're waiting on from football are seniors and are quality players Roberto Davis and Mike Rousell. They're definitely going to give us a big shot in the arm. There is lots of potential there."
B.J. Harden, Chris Dunagan, Justin Young, Michael Tucker and Walter Pam, all juniors, will vie for time as well, along with senior Anthony Baptiste.
Putting the players together into the best possible configuration is something Parker concedes might take some time, and their is no steadfast starting lineup as of yet, but hard work is sure to be rewarded.
Meanwhile, the coach has already gained at least one vocal supporter in the community.
"Jay is one of those guys... If you meet him right off the bat he works hard and he's a good man you want him to do well. And because of that he works very, very hard and his work ethic will rub off on those kids," said Lady Dawgs coach Kevin Baker, a guy who knows a little bit about turning around flagging programs.
"There is not a whole lot I know, but the one thing I'm certain of is that he will turn them around. He will get them going, because he has the work ethic, the excitement and knowledge it takes to do that.
"Keep your eyes on Copperas Cove boys basketball. Coach Parker will bring them around."
Contact Jon Garrett at firstname.lastname@example.org