Staff Photo: Brandon Brigman. Mill Creek girls assistant basketball coach Luke Rapley is in his fifth season with the Hawks.
Luke Rapley, 35, is in his fifth season as an assistant girls basketball coach at Mill Creek. Prior to joining the Hawks' program, Rapley spent six seasons as an assistant on Berkmar's boys basketball team, which won back-to-back state championships.
Rapley is a 1992 graduate of Yale High School in Michigan where he played basketball. He earned his bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering at Michigan in 1996 and has a master's in math education from Georgia and a specialist's degree in math education from Georgia State.
In this latest installment of "Getting to know...," Rapley talks with staff writer Brandon Brigman about keeping the team's stats on a Palmpilot, his wife Nyree keeping the official scorebook and growing up on a farm.
BB: Mill Creek had a couple of exciting games during the region tournament. Do the girls know you don't have to win by one every time?
LR: (Laughs) They know that, but they also know after every game we're saying it doesn't really matter what it looks like. All that matters is that you win. Win and move on now.
BB: It gets pretty nerve racking on the bench. Do you get nervous?
LR: I do, but one thing about it is I've been there before being at Berkmar, winning back-to-back state championships there. I've been on the bench when it's nerve racking. It is nerve racking to me, but I'm sure it's not as much as it is for the girls, who it's their first time for a lot of these situations they are in. It's probably helpful like myself and Ashley (Phillips) have both been there before and we know what it takes. We're going to be nervous, but we're a little calmer than everyone else because we've been there before.
BB: So with the state tournament, can I go ahead and mark down Mill Creek for five more wins?
RL: That would be nice. Whoever wins five in a row is state champs. I've said it ever since I started coaching, you only have to have a five-game winning streak to win it. Basically, you have to win seven games in a season to win a state title. Two in region to qualify and five state games. Now it's survival of the fittest right now.
BB: I understand you keep the team stats with a Palmpilot. Why not the traditional pen and paper?
RL: The pen and paper is strictly who got what. The one I have is play-by-play, so we can pull it back up and we can see we had eight turnovers in a row or things like that. We can look at all the play-by-play information. We can watch the tape and see the same thing, but we can see it live with the game at halftime or pull random stats up that way.
BB: How much does that help you with coaching as you're going through a game?
RL: I think it helps us a lot, especially at halftime. Because Ashley will ask me random questions at half, like how many turnovers did we have. I can pull up individual players, team stats, so it's really helpful. We can look at all their stats as well because I'm doing both teams at the same time. I think it's a lot more helpful than just the pen and paper. It's the same as pencil and paper, it's just a lot more efficient and quicker.
BB: Your wife keeps the official book at the scorer's table. How fun is it having her at every home game?
RL: It's great. She'd like to go to every game, but she can't. She's really dedicated with what's she's doing and loves the kids. It's great having her there and the kids love seeing her there.
BB: I've heard she might break out and dance from time to time at halftime on the court. You ever join her?
RL: No. (Laughs) That's all her. That's two different people right there. I'm definitely not in any kind of dance mode at any time. I'm very reserved on that front.
BB: What's it like going from boys basketball at Berkmar to girls basketball at Mill Creek?
RL: It's very interesting. I didn't really know what to think. I actually talked to a couple of people that had done it like Coach Mike Herring. It was actually a lot of fun for me. The boys is up-tempo and not a lot of drilling on the basics of basketball. The boys are so much more athletic, they don't have to have all the solid fundamental to be good. Whereas the girls aren't nearly as athletic, most of them aren't anyways, so they have to be drilled on fundamentals day in and day out in order to be successful. If you look at girls teams, the best girls teams are the ones that are fundamentally sound. Whereas as boys, the fundamentally sound team may not be the best team because they are not the most athletic team. Girls have to play below the rim and it's a lot harder. I've really enjoyed it. It's taken me back when I first started coaching at Berkmar with David Boyd. We did solid fundamentals every single day even though we had great athletes.
BB: You were with Berkmar in the early '00s, which was pretty much the rise of Gwinnett County boys basketball. What do you remember about those days?
RL: A couple things. We definitely had some good players, but we didn't have the players the county has produced recently, like the big time nationally known players. We didn't have those players. It was a lot of fun. Mainly the kids who went to that school played there. It wasn't all the moving around nonsense going on now where you just get a couple powerhouse teams and everyone else is chasing them. It was a great time and it was different because the county hadn't really witnessed that level of basketball for a long time, if ever. It was a great ride. It was my first two years teaching, coaching and we win back-to-back state titles. There's nowhere to go but down from there.
BB: I heard you grew up on a farm, milking cows. What was that like?
RL: I did. I don't really know how to explain it because it's all I knew growing up from birth to when I went to college. It's a family farm. We own like 600 acres. We have a dairy farm, beef farm and a crop farm. It was my family with my brother and sister and then my grandparents and then my uncle was down the road with his own farm. All three of us worked together as one big group. I think it was a great experience because it does teach you a lot of hard work and makes you appreciate a lot of things that most people don't even really know where things come from.
BB: Like fresh milk?
RL: Right. We drank nonpasteurized whole milk our entire life. We never bought milk in the store, which most people can't even fathom. You go to the store to buy milk, you think about whole milk, you buy the red bottle. Well, that's not really whole milk. They've taken some butter fat out. Plus our milk separates, all the milk goes to the top and the noncream, skim milk goes to the bottom. It's just different living on dirt roads, riding motorcycles and whatever people do out in the country. It's not like what people term redneck around here, it is country, but not quite like that.
BB: So are you still a country boy or more of a city slicker now?
RL: I'm kind of in between, but I could easily go either direction. It's definitely not something I'm going to go back and do. I left there when I was 18 to go to college for a reason. That was so I didn't have to be a farmer the rest of my life.
BB: That's what I was going to ask you. Why didn't you want to pursue the family business?
RL: I don't know. I was really the first person in my family to go to college. I was really into my schoolwork and the first person that showed any real interest outside of the farm. It's not that my parents didn't want me to go, they were fully supportive of it. Surely they would have loved for me to still be there.
BB: What's the biggest difference living in Georgia compared to Michigan?
RL: It's definitely the weather, that's the biggest. Another major difference is the friendliness. People are just so much more friendlier in the South than in the North.
BB: You have an engineering degree. It seems like you would be too smart to be teaching high school.
RL: The kids always say I'm too smart. It's not really that. It's all what you want. I spent four years at Michigan getting an electrical engineering degree, it was a great degree and a lot of hard work, but I didn't really like what I was doing. I was actually designing microprocessors for computers. I just couldn't stare at any more computer screens and that's basically all you do for hours on end. I decided to make a switch and math is always something I've had a fun time at. Just numbers in general, I'm always doing something fiddling with them and it just amazes me what you can do with them. That's probably why I'm doing the stats for the basketball team.
BB: How long do you see yourself at Mill Creek?
RL: I will stay here as long as I can. I do want to pursue other avenues in education, moving up the levels in leadership to an assistant principal and maybe a principal in the future or something like that. I'm never opposed to changing for the right position. I don't really know if I want to be a head coach just because I have those other aspirations in leadership. I don't want to take a head coach position and then be offered a job as an administrator or something and then have to back out. It's not like it would be a big deal to me, I just don't want someone to miss out on being a head coach that would be there long term.