Staff photo: Ben Beitzel David Palmer is the head girls basketball coach at Lanier.
David Palmer, 35, is the head girls basketball coach at Lanier High School. The New Orleans native and father of four moved to Gwinnett County in 2001.
In this installment of "Getting to Know..." staff writer Ben Beitzel talks with the first-time head coach about building a program from its infancy, playing against Peyton Manning, his big family and his favorite places to eat in New Orleans.
BB: You started college at NAIA Austin College in Sherman, Texas that had to be a big transition from New Orleans.
DP: I played ball there. Quickly I realized that basketball and education was a little bit too tough for me so I transferred to Louisiana Tech where I graduated in 2000.
BB: Louisiana Tech is a neat little town.
DP: It's a great college town. It's in north-central Louisiana and it's a true college town. When the kids aren't there, nobody is. It's a great place.
BB: You have four kids with your wife Jennifer, (Kayla, 8, Matilyn, 6, David, 2, Reagan 1), did you always want a big family?
DP: We've always talked about having a big family and basically as many kids as we can afford and that the good Lord will bless us with.
BB: With four, are you close to the max?
DP: Yes. We think we are done.
BB: Have you been coaching since you started?
DP: Since graduating college, I have always been a teacher and a coach.
BB: Just basketball?
DP: No, I spent two years in track at Mill Creek.
BB: So where all have you been in the county?
DP: I've been around a little bit. I got my first start with Central Gwinnett. Spent three years coaching there. Four years teaching there. My last year at Central I was teaching, but I was coaching at Mill Creek. That was boys basketball. We were opening that program and it was tough, but I enjoyed it.
BB: How much have you learned opening programs? Obviously Mill Creek and now in the early years at Lanier.
DP: It's eye-opening every time. You can't say it's a been-there, done-that, type of thing. It's a different situation. It's always tough to build a program. You go through growing pains and no one wants to, but they are always there.
BB: You had to feel more prepared at Lanier since it was a second go-around.
DP: You know what to expect, but it doesn't make it any easier, because you want to win. You want to always be competing and win. At Lanier we have made great steps this year, great steps.
BB: Where has the biggest improvement come?
DP: The improvement's really been on the practice floor. We are starting to learn just what it means to compete every day. To really have that drive, that effort that translates into wins. It's easy to look at say we've won more games, but the growth, you see it on the practice floor, you see it in the girls. That is what makes it rewarding for me building a program like this even though it is difficult.
BB: How much have you learned about being a head coach in your first stint?
DP: It's a lot more work. Thankfully, I have had great mentors through my JV experience, my assistant experiences. Phil Bollier (former Mill Creek head coach) was a great mentor. Ashley Phillips who I coached under last year with girls at Mill Creek. They let me have a ton of responsibilities, more than a JV coach would have. I definitely thank them for helping me move into this position.BB: What the head job always something you wanted?
BB: What position did you play in basketball?
DP: Kind of a 2-3, shooter, swing type player.
BB: What made you go NAIA? Going to a school that small had to be a big choice.
DP: Just love for the game is why I wanted to keep playing. I love this game. It's one of the passions of my life. My body just hasn't held up the way I thought it would.
BB: Big injuries?
DP: Nothing major. Separated shoulder, nagging knee problems and nagging back problems.
BB: Where did you grow up in New Orleans?
DP: I started out in the suburbs. Freshman year of high school we moved right in the city limits. I did go to a Catholic High School, then I transferred to just a Christian high school, John Curtis Christian School. A small private school, about the size of a AA program, but we played AAAA athletics, so we were playing all the inner-city New Orleans teams and schools. That was fun, I enjoyed that.
Highly competitive. Senior year we won district, I think junior year we were runners-up. It was fun. I really enjoyed my experience there.
BB: In the city, what sport rules the schools?
DP: My high school was all football. They are football factory. They won the state tournament again this year. I think it's like the 22nd time in the history of the school and they opened up in like '74, '72, something like that. But in the city, basketball is the main sport. Some fun gyms, I played against some great players that went on the have some great college careers, pro experiences. It was fun.
BB: Who was the best player you faced?
DP: (Former Villanova, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers player) Kerry Kittles on the basketball side. He played for St. Augustine. The atmosphere that they created in that gym with that team was unreal. Jam-packed. One of the most recognizable players that I had a chance to guard was Peyton Manning. It's kind of great looking back and saying, I played against him. He was easy to guard though, he didn't move much.
BB: No? Not a hoops player?
DP: He could shoot it. He could flat shoot it and that was his role. That is what he did.
BB: Do you miss New Orleans?
DP: It's a great place to visit. It's a great place to go eat. It's not where we wanted to raise our family though. We still go back every year. My daughters love beignets, so just taking them to that type of experience, that type of food. My wife has actually gotten really good at cooking beignets here in Georgia now. She just made them for my second daughter turned 6 Christmas Eve, so that was her breakfast, beignets.
BB: OK, well, you're from there. Where should I go eat down there?
DP: If you get out to the suburbs, Check In, Check Out, which is an old converted gas station which is excellent. The restaurants like Mother's that get all the attention are always great, you can't go wrong with them. But some of the other little places are just as good are a third the price, better atmosphere.