WEST PORTSMOUTH — Caleb McClanahan has waited for this opportunity.
Now, his goal is to show that a tradition-rich football school can also have hoops dreams.
That’s because McClanahan, a 29-year-old South Gallia graduate and assistant coach, has been hired as the new boys basketball head coach at Portsmouth West —as the Senators seek to improve their program and be recognized alongside some of the top traditional roundball schools in the powerhouse Southern Ohio Conference Division II.
McClanahan takes over the Senators from Bill Hafer, whose three seasons produced records of 9-13, 6-17 and 7-16.
McClanahan is also the fourth —and final —SOC II boys basketball head coaching vacancy to be filled from February, as Oak Hill, in mid-June, hired Heath McKinniss as expected to replace the legendary Norm Persin.
Persin, Ohio’s active coaching career wins leader and third all-time in state history with 766, was hired at Valley in mid-May — after a short-lived retirement.
In addition, Rick Scarberry — who previously coached for 11 years at Northwest — has returned to take the Mohawks’ reigns.
While Persin and Scarberry have long since established their success, McClanahan plans to build his own brand on the West side.
But first things first comes getting the Senators to win consistently.
“The SOC II is a tough, tough basketball league. I think we have to be different. I think I have to do some things different than what other coaches can do. They have their programs already established, and I am still trying to get us going in the right direction,” said McClanahan, in an interview on Monday. “We’re going to be different than other teams, but I think once the kids buy in, we’re going to play a style that’s going to allow us to be there at the end of games. My goal is to get this program going in the right direction.”
McClanahan was part of a winning culture at South Gallia in the late 2000s, as he played under head coach Donnie Saunders and graduated in 2009.
A member of a Rebels’ sectional championship club, he was an all-Southeast District performer in both basketball and football —and a member of South Gallia’s first two state playoff football squads.
He has spent the past five seasons coaching at his alma mater —having learned under Larry Howell and Kent Wolfe, who played for former Gallia Academy mentor Jim Osborne and for former legendary Southern coach Carl Wolfe respectively.
Both Osborne and Carl Wolfe are Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame head coaches.
McClanahan said Howell will assist him — as McClanahan was his freshmen, reserve and varsity assistant with the Rebels.
In the 2015-16 season, South Gallia garnered a single-season school record 18 victories — and won a sectional championship.
“I am young, but I pitched to them (West administration) in my interview that I’ve coached and played under very successful head coaches before. I gained a lot of coaching knowledge from them and they’ve passed a lot of things down to me,” said McClanahan. “I believe that’s really sped up my readiness to take over a varsity program.”
However, the Senators —despite several good athletes in the West district — are not known for basketball being their best sport.
McClanahan said West is known for its toughness, and thus that will dictate different —even perhaps rugged — styles of play.
“West doesn’t have a strong basketball tradition, but if you look at what it has done in football, you know you’re going to get physical and tough kids. The style of basketball I want to play requires that. At South Gallia, especially when I played, we were known as tough-nosed kids that got after it. When you have a football tradition like they have here, that means that they have athletes. So you have to play a different style. When you’re not a traditional basketball school, you have to play a more physical style,” he said. “High school basketball is unique because you have to be able to adjust to what kids you have. At Syracuse (University), Jim Boeheim can run the 2-3 matchup zone all day because he can go out and recruit 6-foot-8 kids. My style personally is to get up and down the floor. It just depends on what kids we have and who we are playing. You have to be able, as a coach, to adjust to what kids you have.”
That’s especially true on the offensive end, but all players — despite their physical makeup — can hustle, defend, box out and rebound.
McClanahan said the Senators’ defense should rule the roost.
“I am a defensive-minded coach. So everything we do is going to revolve around that end of the floor. I think that fits these kids. Defense is something that you don’t have to be a great basketball player. Defense is heart and hustle,” he said. “If I can teach them to just play tough-nosed, physical, well-rounded basketball, I think we’ll be in some games.”
Right now, though, following the Fourth of July holiday and McClanahan’s official hiring last Tuesday, he is still getting to know his prospective Senators.
They have had one open gym prior to Monday in which 19 attended, but are expected to have at least three open gyms per week throughout July.
The OHSAA already waived its “10-day rule” for the summer of 2020, so there is no limit on the number of coaching days for workouts, training, open gyms or open fields.
Official practices for fall sports are set to begin on Aug. 1, with the first weekend of Ohio high school football being the last weekend in August.
“It’s all discovery right now. The kids have to get adjusted to me and I have to get adjusted to them. I’ve got to get to know them and develop relationships with them and that’s a process we all have to go through. We are behind the eight-ball because everybody else has been working out with a head coach in place for at least a month,” said McClanahan. “We’re going to have August this year too, but at some point I have to let the football players go do football.”
But, from the lone open gym so far, McClanahan said his Senators have made an early impression upon him.
“It was tremendous to see how hard they played in just that one open gym. Some of that might be where they were cooped up for so long because of the COVID, but they literally gave everything they had. That’s the kind of kids I want,” he said. “I told the kids on Thursday that I’ve been to the Convo (Ohio University Convocation Center) as a player and an assistant. I want these guys to get there. I think these kids have the potential, but are they willing to sacrifice and put the work in to do it? That’s what we’re going to find out.”
And, the new coach admitted that he will find out much about himself.
However, he has waited for this opportunity.
McClanahan added that he will teach mathematics for grades six thru 12 at the CAPE Alternative School.
“I’m extremely excited about the chance to lead a program and put into action what I feel encompasses a good program, I’ve been thinking about this for the last five years. I want to see if I have what it takes to do this,” he said. “There are going to be challenges, but I feel I am ready for this.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved