Coach Optimistic After Frustrating Year

Coach+Graham+guides+the+team+during+a+hard+game+against+St.+Piux.

Coach Graham guides the team during a hard game against St. Piux.

Anna Poznyak

Harlen Graham is a recognizable figure in the Grady community as the PE and Health teacher. Affectionately known as coach Graham, students know and appreciate him for being both funny and supportive but also reasonably demanding.  The position of head coach of Grady’s Girls Varsity basketball, however, was a new experience for Graham.

Graham was appointed head coach in September, a surprise he knew would be both pleasing and tough. He had an extensive 13 years of coaching experience, but in boys’ basketball. As he found later, coaching “unemotional” boys did not prepare him for the “different personalities” and shifting moods of female basketball players.

“Girls, you don’t know what kind of mood they’re gonna be in,” Graham said. “Girls, they are up and down.”

Graham said that he was not fully satisfied with the girls’ commitment and diligence as “sometimes they did not give 110 percent effort.” Graham believes the problem was the girls’ lack of maturity and understanding of the requirements. Furthermore, Graham only had three months to plan prior to the beginning of the season, which was not enough time for the new coach to plan a lot of details or become aware of the team’s nuances.

Graham did not hide his dissatisfaction, however,  with the season’s results. He feels that the team could have been better, but “a lot of personalities” made the 2014-2015 season “up and down”. Even though the team finished with winning record (13-12 ) he fact that the girls lost six games in the last 30 seconds by three points or less continues to bother the head coach.

Graham felt that all of the games were memorable for him, but the games against St. Pius were the most outstanding, despite the fact that Grady suffered losses in both games. The coach is proud of his players’ performance as they did “pretty good job” and held St. Pius stand-out Asia Durr, ranked second in the ESPN’s Rankings Class of 2015, to just 19 points (in comparison, in some games she scored as much as 52 points).

Coach Graham guides the team during a hard game against St. Piux.
Coach Graham guides the team during a hard game against St. Piux.

Two of the five Grady senior girls are going to play “on the next level” as well. During National Signing Day, Aliya Maloof signed a letter of intent for North Greenville University, becoming Graham’s first female player to play for college.

“She has all the opportunity, the ability to play at the next level,” Graham said.

Senior Naria Woods plans to sign her letter with Fort Valley State University. Graham believes that the remaining seniors, like Jasmine Rich and Sierra Howard, have the ability to also play at the collegiate level.

Starting lineup (from left to right): Naria Woods, Jasmine Rich, Aliya Maloof, Danasha Smith, Sierra Howard.
Girls’ starting five (top) left to right, senior Naria Woods, senior Jasmine Rich, senior Aliya Maloof, junior Danasha Smith and senior Sierra Howard trot out before the game against St. Pius on Jan. 16.

Girls’ starting five (top) left to right, senior Naria Woods, senior Jasmine Rich, senior Aliya Maloof,  junior Danasha Smith and senior Sierra Howard trot out before the game against St. Pius on Jan. 16.

Losing part of the team by way of graduating seniors is a natural process for any high school or college sports. Graham understands it and does not keep looking back at the things that are gone, instead anticipating next year with changes in mind and people to rely on.

“We will have to grow and develop as a team. We are looking forward to next year,” said Graham.

The coach plans to kick off the 2015-2016 season by getting the girls to the gym early to work out and condition before the season begins. Over the past season he realized that consistency is a key to the team’s discipline and success, so he plans to let the players know in advance what the requirements are and hold the girls accountable to these requirements. He considers Deasia Smith, Kelly Jackson, Briana Johns and Gracie Griffith as future team leaders.