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October 3, 2012

Inside the Locker Room with coach Commander King

Commander King is the newly appointed head boy's basketball coach at Seton Catholic Prep in Chandler, Arizona.

You may remember Coach King from his previous tenure up north when he served as varsity head coach at Coconino High School in Flagstaff for seven seasons. Coach King led the Panthers to six straight state playoff appearances including two quarterfinals and four round of 16 appearances.

Coconino was well known for their tenacious defensive pressure and structured but open offense that utilized player talents. Coach King intends to implement the same style of play at Seton.

Most recently Coach King was a part of the varsity boys basketball staff at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale where the Firebirds were state runner's up in the 2010-2011 season.

Commander was a four-year varsity starter at Mission Viejo High School in southern California where he played point guard. He left as the school's 7th ranked all-time scorer and all-time leader in both assists and steals. King went on to become a two-year starter for Coach Jerry Hernandez at Irvine Valley College, one of southern California's highly successful junior colleges. Upon leaving IVC, King signed with Northern Arizona University where he studied Speech Communications and minored in Theatre. While playing for the Lumberjacks, King was a member of the 2000 Big Sky championship squad that narrowly lost their first round NCAA tournament game as the 15 seed to 2nd seeded St. Johns.

Coach King led Coconino High School to a 96-84 record and reached the 100-win mark while serving as interim head coach at Chaparral High School this past season.

Commander is known as a "player's coach" and uses his engaging personality to get the most out of his student-athletes on the court and in the game of life. He's excited about the coming season and looking forward to leading the Seton Sentinels program to new heights.

Coach King resides in Chandler with his wife Jennifer - together they have four children: Jaidyn (12), Mya (8), Amare (5), and their newest addition Isaiah who was born this past January.

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AV: How did you get into coaching?

Coach King: After my playing career at NAU had ended, I was offered a junior varsity position at Coconino High School. Up until that moment, I had never even considered coaching but I thought it was a great opportunity to give back to the game I love and that has given me so much, so I accepted. After that first season, then varsity coach Charles Gover resigned and recommended to the AD Joe Killeen that I be given the job. "Papa Joe," as I called him, offered me the job because he had faith in me that I was ready and knowledgeable enough to do the job. So I took the job on faith myself and pledging that it would always be about teaching kids how to play the game the right way as well as how to use basketball as a vehicle to reach their life goals. The rest, as they say, is history.

AV: How do you manage your time during the season with respect toward your teaching/coaching duties and your social/family life?

Coach King: Well, I'm a family man first. I love my wife and our four kids and they will always come first. Fortunate for me, I have a wife that played the game herself and is now also a coach at Seton Catholic with the girls program. So going back to the days at Coconino, we've always done a good job together at balancing our responsibilities to our kids as parents with coaching. We are blessed with four children who enjoy being around the game and in the gym so that makes things much easier. It gets a little hectic at times running around taking the kids to their own activities but our family trusts in God to help make things work and I know as long as we keep our priorities in order, my role in this wonderful coaching profession will take care of itself.

AV: Who are your coaching idols?

Coach King: I have quite a few. Growing up I had two very influential coaches in Steve Fulford and Joedy Gardner who had such a significant and positive impact on my life as a basketball player and now in the way that I coach that it will always begin with them. I'd like to believe that I approach coaching and my mentoring of young men as those two fine men did with me. I also am big fans of Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, and Shaka Smart. I just think all three of those coaches have a wonderful way of getting the best out of their players both on and off the court and I think it's reflective in the way their teams play. Those players would go to hell and back for their coaches and as a coach, I try to build relationships with our players that fosters that kind of effort.

AV: What are some of the personal rewards you've gained from coaching?

Coach King: You know, honestly in my seven years as a head coach, I've only won one Region Coach of the Year award back in '07-'08 at Coconino, but those things aren't really all that important. I mean, I think all of us as coaches would like to be recognized for doing things well. But for me personally having the respect, and I mean real respect, of others in our coaching fraternity here in AZ and the relationships that I have with my former players, those two things mean way more than any plaque on the wall could do. When I see my former players and I get hugs of appreciation and they're doing positive things whether it be in college or back in the community, those are the biggest rewards of all!

AV: How could AZ high school basketball be improved?

Coach King: Where to begin? I think the communication between coaches, AD's, and the AIA on issues like the transfer rule, division alignment, and such is where we have to begin. Too many decisions are being made without the input of coaches and we're the ones truly dealing with the student-athletes. With the improvement of the state's players on the court, we need to continue to move in a direction that properly prepares them for life after high school and I think some of the things going on now in regards to basketball in this state are working counterproductively to that. From a game standpoint, and I think I said this six or seven years ago, I think we need a shot clock implemented and a better state playoff system.

AV: Who are the top three high school coaches in AZ?

Coach King: There's no question that starts with Coach Gary Ernst at Mesa Mountain View. He's such a tremendous example for young coaches today with the way he runs his program and how his players play the game. Second, I think would be Coach Rick McConnell at Dobson. He is cut from the same cloth. I have so much respect for him and he and his family have been so kind and supportive of me. On the court his kids play hard and you can see they develop a high IQ for the game which leads to their success. Third, and this is tough to pick a top three, but I'd have to say Karen Self who I have the pleasure to work alongside with now at Seton Catholic. She's is awesome. The fact that year after year she is in the hunt for a state title, with teams at first glance you would not fear, speaks volumes. I've known Karen for a while now and get a closer look than most do, but she is tireless in becoming a better coach and teaching her girls the game and they absolutely love her for it. And I know you asked for just three but I'd like to recognize coaches such as Todd Fazio, Aaron Windler, Jay Caserio, and Dave Glasgow who I think are tremendous in the way they coach their kids both on and off the court.

AV: If you could pick any AZ high school to coach at (other than your current school), who would it be?

Coach King: Coconino. I didn't grow up here so there's a lot I'm still learning about the tradition of some of our great basketball schools but for me Coconino is a school that I will always cherish having the opportunity to coach at and the experiences I had there and the relationships with people connected with the school and city will always have a big spot in my heart.

AV: If you couldn't coach basketball anymore, yet could coach another sport, what would it be?

Coach King: Baseball. Baseball was my first love, until basketball took over that role and I really enjoy the game. I've had the chance to coach some teams in the past and there's something special about our "national pastime" that I thoroughly enjoy.

AV: What should the role of parents be during their child's high school years?

Coach King: I think parents should be there to support and encourage their children. I also think parents have a right to communicate their concerns to a coach, but I think it should be done in a professional manner. I have no problem communicating honestly with parents about their kids, but I think some parents don't allow themselves to fully trust that a coach will do what's in the best interest of their kid. Some of that is warranted, but I think for 90% of the coaches I know, that is what we set out to do.

AV: How do you balance playing time so that the entire roster feels included?

Coach King: I think that begins in practice. I've always tried to communicate to players that practice is where you earn your time. I don't care if you're the perceived best player or the last man on the bench. Show me that you're willing to execute on a consistent basis what is necessary to help the team win, and you'll get your opportunity in the game. I'll be honest, I don't feel the need to play everyone and I think that's one of those things that kids these days believe they're entitled to once they make the team and I'm sorry, but if you believe that as a player you're flat out wrong. Part of my job as a coach is to teach players that in order to succeed in life, you have to develop discipline and develop good habits so that you can be successful as well as those around you and I think a player's best chance to do that is in practice.

AV: Would you describe yourself as an offensive-minded coach, defensive-minded, or a little of both?

Coach King: I was always a defensive lock down guy so I believe I will always categorize myself as a defensive-minded coach. To add to that, in my past experience I wasn't always blessed with enormous offensive talent and we needed to be exceptional defensively in order to compete. Don't get me wrong, I believe in my ability to give a good offensive game plan, but the way I see it you have to stop the other team from scoring more than you in order to win so I'll start there.

AV: How have you been impacted by open enrollment and/or transfers?

Coach King: What transfers? I'm still waiting on that 6-foot-10 monster of a post guy to walk through the door, ha!

AV: How do you balance listening to/implementing suggestions from your assistants to ensure that they feel their opinions are valued?

Coach King: I think it's important that you get valuable input from your assistant coaches. I don't like silent assistants; they bring me no value. Ultimately, I have to make the final call as a head coach, but I believe the more ideas and information we have to assess attacking a problem or an opposing team, the easier it is making that final decision.

AV: Do you see any emerging trends in the high school game?

Coach King: Too much flash and not enough substance. I think our players need to put more emphasis on learning the game and preparing themselves to play the game at the next level than delivering highlight plays followed by all the pomp and circumstance. Learn to play the game and more importantly respect the game!

AV: Is there any topic you'd like to "sound off" on?

Coach King: Nothing I'd really like to sound off on but I'd just like to say how grateful I am to be back on the sidelines and I also want to say thank you to all the coaches and people like Jon Perryman, Scott Clayton, and Ron Coleman who have supported me over the years and continue to work wholeheartedly to make AZ basketball better.

The AZ coaching fraternity is filled with a great many coaches who wake up every day with the purpose of making student-athletes better people both on and off the court and I applaud all of you. We are Guardians of the Game whether we accept that or not and we all need to remember the very reason we got into this profession. It wasn't for personal gratification or fame, it was to teach the game we love so much to young people who in their own way are developing that same affection for the game of basketball. Let's continue to find ways to further that affection, not to deter from it. Thanks for letting me be a part of this and God Bless!



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