LUCASVILLE — The Valley Indians will be going into to the next basketball season with a new coach on the sidelines: AJ Philips.
Philips is a graduate of VHS and has been an assistant coach under Scott Rolfe for the past five years.
“AJ’s strength is his ability to adapt,” said Rolfe. “He can change things around based on the type of players he has. Some coaches insist on a system, but his best asset is that he can be fluid and bring out the strengths of the kids he has working for him.”
Philips will have to adapt quickly, though, as the Valley Indians lose eight seniors from one of their most successful teams in school history. Philips is replacing the Scott Rolfe, who will continue his duties of Superintendent at Valley.
“When I first got the superintendent’s job one of the major question marks was if I was going to continue coaching,” said Rolfe. “The school board was nice enough to allow me to do one last year with my class. I call them that because I’ve been with those kids since second grade, and it was definitely an exciting year. I’m glad I got to go out like that.”
The Valley Indians were co SOC champs last season, had a deep run in the district tournament, and boasted two all-district players: Bryan Rolfe and Blake Howard.
In addition to the basketball court, Coach Rolfe was also the offensive coordinator for football for many years.
“I spent 22 years on the sideline in football,” said Rolfe. “I called 99% of the plays. I spent 21 seasons as a junior high basketball coach and five at the varsity level. Stepping away from coaching will take a change in mindset to be sure. I need to figure out how to spend my free time during the week without a practice going on. But, I’ll continue to support all the athletic programs just in a different role.”
Coach Philips admits it will take hard work with a very different group of boys this year.
“It will be very different,” admitted Philips. “We’ve lost eight seniors. We are going to have three or four returning players from last year’s varsity squad. They have some big shoes to fill. But, those returning players know what it’s like to be on a great program. Hopefully the younger kids can catch on to that quickly.”
As many basketball fans know, preparation for the upcoming season starts as early as the summer and goes into the fall. It will be no different with VHS.
“We had kids play quality minutes in different shootouts and scrimmages so far this summer. This team will be determined in large part from how we prepare the rest of the summer and going into the fall. Right now I’m looking at Christian Breech as our most experienced player. It starts with him, and although there is no way to replace our seniors, Rolfe and Howard especially, we will do everything we can to get back to that point. We have to play hard nose defense, take care of the ball and focus on all the little aspects of the game we can control.”
As a protégé to Rolfe, Philips admits his coaching style won’t be much different. Both men value defensive energy and pressure. Both want to create turnovers and force bad shots so that their offense can take advantage on the other end. But, Philips notes one major change in philosophy.
“I’m going to slow our game down a bit. There’s not going to be any shots taken in the first few seconds of the possession. We don’t have a shot clock and I’m going to take advantage of that. We are going to grind the game and hold onto the ball a bit more. This year, 94% of our offense is gone. We have to slow it down a bit.”
All Valley basketball fans may agree, it will be strange not seeing Scott Rolfe on the sideline during the first few games. But AJ Philips plans to continue the success Scott and he started five years ago.
“When Scott took over it was a long time in the making. We made a pact that we were going to bring Valley basketball back, and I plan to continue to do what both of us started. The first few games will be different. All the kids know he started this success, and I’m going to take it over and keep running with it. I look forward to the new year.”
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