By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
Jim Hood had a dream realized when he was named boys basketball coach at Lakeside on Wednesday night.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “It’s something I had dreamt about. I grew up here. I played here. It’s really exciting.”
Hood, a 1971 Ashtabula graduate, three-time Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County first teamer and Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Famer, was beginning to wonder if he’d ever get that call.
“In a way, it was getting to me,” Hood said. “Everything was just dragging on. They kept bringing in new people and every time I applied, they overlooked me. It was making me think there was something wrong with me. It was very tiring for me.
“I’ve got a love and a passion for the game. That love and passion got me through.”
The failure to get the job didn’t keep Hood from applying each time the position came open. He was persistent for one reason.
“The kids,” Hood said. “I had tons of kids asking me if I was going to apply, if I was going to coach. If the kids keep asking, there’s something there.”
Hood, 61, is grateful for the chance to head the program.
“It’s a great opportunity for me. I want to thank Lakeside and all the people who supported me with kind words.”
Hood’s wife, Margee, might be happier than he is about the job.
“She’s excited, maybe even a little more than I am,” Hood said. “We had gone back and forth about whether I should stay at it. She’s been in my corner for 32 years. She wants to be part of the program. She’s as happy as I am.”
The Lakeside program is a bit behind in the process as Hood is taking over about a month and a half before official practice begins.
“With a new coach coming in to the system, there’s new terminology and getting used to a new person in charge,” Hood said. “But the kids know my system through me coaching them at the junior high. I know each one of them. I know their abilities. I know what to expect of them and they know what to expect of me.
“Learning the mundane things will be non-existent. We just really have to fine-tune some things.”
Having coached every player currently in the program while he led the Lakeside 8th-grade program, Hood and his players know each other quite well.
“They know the line and they don’t cross the line,” Hood said. “I tell the kids, I won’t lie to them and they don’t lie to me. I will respect them and they will respect me. If they don’t know something, ask.
“We’ll have a love/hate relationship. There are going to be days they love me and there are going to be days they hate me, but if they stick with the program, they’re going to be a better ballplayer and a better person.”
Having coached or played under Hall of Fame coaches like Tony Chiacchiero, Ange Candela, Gene Gephart and Bob Walters, Hood will be a stickler for playing the game the right way.
“My first coaching job was under Coach Walters and Coach Gephart started me with fundamentals,” Hall said. “Coach Walters was a firm disciplinarian. I coached under some very good coaches who all had their own style. I take a little bit from each of their styles.”
While playing at Youngstown State, Hood saw for himself just how important those fundamentals can be.
“That came from Coach Gephart,” Hood said. “In college, I looked at what was going on and I realized that teams that were fundamentally sound win most of their games. If they’re not sound, they’re not going to win many games.
“I firmly believe in fundamentals.”
The Dragons’ staff will begin teaching those basics at the early stages in the players’ development.
“I want to incorporate being a family,” Hood said. “From the top of the family down — from the elementary school to the varsity — we are going to be one big family.”
The Dragons aren’t the first team Hood will have led. He was the coach at St. John for one very tough season. The Heralds were 0-21.
“I’d rather forget that,” Hood said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that we had 22 players in the program. We had 16 sophomores and six freshmen. We needed to build the program so I took eight kids for the varsity, eight for the JV and six for the freshmen.
“I put it behind me. It was a learning experience for me.”
As he takes over the Dragons, Hood won’t change the basic philosophy the kids have played under by much.
“I believe in making teams play my tempo,” Hood said. “If we play our tempo, we’re more likely to win. We can’t run and gun with everybody and we can’t slow it down with everybody. We’ll run and gun, we’ll press some and trap some. We’ll have our own style.
“We’ll push the tempo when the opportunity’s there. If it’s not, we’ll run a halfcourt set.”
Hood will have a strong staff around him.
“Bill Isco will be my JV coach and I talked with Coach Walters and he said he’d be my shooting coach. Sean Allgood will be my weight coach and Olajuwon Cooper will coach the seventh graders. I haven’t had a chance to get an eighth-grade coach yet.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.