Prep basketball: Gurley to coach in East-West Game
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — The call came from Phil Weaver, director of the East-West games for the North Carolina Coaches Association.
On the other end was West Rowan boys basketball coach Mike Gurley, and Weaver was asking if he’d consider being the West team’s assistant coach for next summer’s all-star game in Greensboro.
Gurley has an enviable varsity head-coaching record of 415-124, carved out in 19 seasons in Lexington and Mount Ulla — not to mention three state-championship rings — so there had to be two seconds or so of disappointment. He wouldn’t be human if there hadn’t been.
Wasn’t this a little bit like “Hoosiers” director David Anspaugh calling up Gene Hackman and wondering if he’d be interested in playing the supporting role of shaky assistant Shooter Flatch rather than starring as heroic head coach Norman Dale?
Thoughts had to race through Gurley’s shaved head along the lines of: “Assistant? Really? Well, who the heck will I be assisting — Mike Krzyzewski?”
Such feelings were fleeting. The East-West All-Star Game is still the East-West All-Star Game, and the pool of West coaches is every coach in the Piedmont and mountains. It’s an honor — a huge one — to be asked to be half of the two-man staff.
So Gurley’s answer to Weaver was yes — an enthusiastic, emphatic yes.
“Leroy Holden and Bo Brickels coached in the East-West, and I’d point at those two men as the biggest influences on my life other than my own dad,” Gurley explained. “Now my name will be there with theirs and with guys like Howard West and Dave Price that I’ve looked up to and admired. The East-West is for the basketball lifers, the coaches that love the game and have put heart and soul into it, and to be part of that is very humbling. Absolutely, this is one heck of an honor.”
Gurley’s not just spouting politically correct phrases.
For one thing, he understands assistant coaches aren’t just well-dressed mannequins. They can make a difference — and they have made a difference for his teams.
“Willie Ellis will be going into his 15th season with me this year, and that’s loyalty,” Gurley said. “Robert Hairston was always an equal and a friend. Jim Snyder was my assistant in Lexington, and he ran for governor. Brian Perry was my assistant, and now he’s got his own program at Carson.
“Ken Clarke, Jerry Sherrill, Keith Sherrill, K.P. Parks — loyal guys. They’ve made me better, made our kids better.”
Gurley didn’t know right off who the West head coach would be, but when he found out he was pleased. East Rutherford’s Brad LeVine, fresh from a 2A state championship, will be the head coach.
Gurley may cheerfully remind LeVine once or twice in the coming months that his West Rowan Falcons buried LeVine’s East Rutherford squad 81-49 in a 1999 sectional, but he won’t mind serving as LeVine’s right-hand man.
“I’m glad the head coach is someone I already know and like and someone I have great respect for,” Gurley said. “I’m excited for Brad. He’s a wonderful fellow, and like a lot of high school coaches he’s spent a lot of unglorious days working for not a whole lot of money. It’s great to see him recognized.”
Gurley hasn’t spoken to LeVine yet, but he plans to call him soon. Gurley likes to makes the first move. That’s why he traditionally strolls down to the enemy bench to shake the opposing coach’s hand before every game.
“Brad and I will get along like we always have,” Gurley said. “Brad’s a very good basketball coach with a great heart. And what my assistants have taught me is there are lots of ways I can help.”
Part of Gurley’s aid will come in helping with the selection of the 10-man team. Part of it will be in practices and part of it will be serving as a second set of eyes and suggestion-maker during the frantic game itself.
“I’ve coached a lot of guys who have played in this game,” said Gurley, ticking off the names of Lexington’s Bernard McIntosh, and West Rowan’s Scooter Sherrill, Donte Minter, Phillip Williams, Jamel Carpenter and K.J. Sherrill. “I know how important it is. The guys who play in it are very prideful — it means they’ve had a great career — and they tell stories about it the rest of their lives.”
Serving in the East-West game will qualify Gurley for the relatively small pool of coaches considered for the North Carolina staff for the Carolinas Classic All-Star Game played against South Carolina’s best every spring. And while Gurley didn’t say it out loud, that talent-laden game also has to be on his bucket list.
Gurley has rolled to state crowns when he was blessed with magnificent material (towering West teams went 61-0 in 2001-02 and 2002-03), but he’s also squeezed NPC titles out of years when the talent level wasn’t special.
Gurley’s 14 seasons in Mount Ulla have produced 10 regular-season league titles, and the Falcons are working on mini-streaks of back-to-back NPC tournament championships and trips to the 3A Western Regional.
In other words, the West all-stars have signed up a pretty fair assistant coach.
“I want to be everything Brad needs me to be,” Gurley said. “We’ll be in it to win it.”