Staff Photo: John Bohn Eric Nathan is in his second season as head coach of the Collins Hill boy's varsity basketball team.
Eric Nathan is in his second season as head boys basketball coach at Collins Hill after five years as an assistant for the Eagles. The Atlanta native, who played for Woodward Academy, also was an assistant at Shiloh for his former high school coach Tony Watkins and a volunteer graduate assistant at the University of Georgia.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Nathan talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a number of topics, including whether his 2-year-old daughter Abby will learn to play basketball, finding his way to coaching and teaching and needing to leave home for college.
CT: Is it nice to have a few returning starters?
EN: As opposed to last year when we had none, we have four and then Darius Joell transferred in (from Central Gwinnett).
CT: That has to be a much better starting point.
EN: It's easier because our first practice this year was like our 15th from last year. We're so much farther ahead. We have to go back and review the basics, but they know it. And it's easier, with this being my second year we're not having to introduce a bunch of drills. We just have to refresh them from last year and this summer.
One place where we struggled last year was in close games. Again, that goes to the youth we had on our team. Hopefully this year, if we find ourselves in closer games, we'll be better equipped to play down the stretch.
CT: Did you envision being a coach when you went off to college?
EN: No. I look back and I kind of always had a coach's mentality -- which is a nice way of saying I couldn't play but I knew how to make the most of what I had.
But it wasn't until the end of college that I realized I really missed the game. I missed being a part of it. I missed the coaching. I missed the camaraderie of being in the locker room. I wanted to get back into it.
CT: How did you end up going to Syracuse, because you grew up in Atlanta?
EN: I went to Woodward Academy and I played for Tony Watkins. Education is very important. My mom is a teacher. My brother has a Ph.D. My dad is college-educated.
Syracuse gave me a very good education. But part of it was I just wanted a change. And it was.
But my family is from the Northeast, most from New York, some from Boston. Syracuse is about four hours from there. So it was nice around the holidays (to visit).
CT: But you came back to the South?
EN: Well, in college I was actually a journalist. I was a writer and by the time I got to be a senior, I was like, 'I don't want to do this.' It kind of goes back to what I was talking about before with the lack of camaraderie and being a part of the team -- as opposed to being impartial.
I wanted to root. As hard as that's been for the football team the last couple of years, you want to cheer for them. You can't do that from where I was.
So when I came back, my idea was I wanted to coach college. I don't have any 'ins' in college. I didn't play. So I went to coach for Tony Watkins. I just needed a place and he said 'Come out.' He was at Shiloh at the time. I was basically the last assistant. I helped Kasey Martin on JV, who is now at Chattahoochee. I floated sometimes to help with the freshman team. And I helped on varsity. I don't even know if they paid me anything that year. I just wanted to coach.
I had a bunch of odd job and finally I started substituting toward the end of the year.
My plan was to do that for a couple of years and start applying to colleges, figure out how to get in there. I worked a ton of camps during the summers, Louisville and Georgia Tech, even up and down the eastern seaboard.
It kind of got to a point after two years where I decided that wasn't going to work and I had some guys pushing me to go get my master's in English education -- which I did at UGA and helped with the basketball program there. I could best be described as a volunteer graduate assistant. No pay, just hang around the office and learn. Which was tremendous to learn from all those guys.
When I was done, I kept trying to apply for college jobs and it wasn't working. I said, 'All right, I'll go coach high school for a year.' Two weeks after the school year started, I had calls from about eight Gwinnett County schools. Collins Hill was the first one. I started coaching here and have no intention of coaching in college at this point.
CT: Were you up for more school, going back for your master's? Because I was pretty happy to be done with classes after I got my bachelor's degree.
EN: I still remember sitting in that first class and thinking, 'Oh dear God, what have I gotten into?' It was a very surreal thing. I was a history of education class with this old professor. I think he just got up there and talked. He was just telling stories.
But it was good. I took some really good classes. I took some really bad classes. Like everyone does in college. But I'm glad I had that two-year break because I don't think I could have started it right away. Having that break was important. I had the direction for where I wanted to go.
I finished that, took a year off and then got my specialist degree.
CT: Even though you didn't stick with journalism, you still stuck with words? What's on the curriculum for language arts these days?
EN: I teach all juniors this year. All American lit. So there is obviously a very good connection to the writing. But at the same time, I hated to read as a kid. Couldn't stand it. Hated reading these things. But I think that's made me a more effective teacher because I realized why I hated it then. I think it can help me fill in the gaps for the students about why this is good literature and why it's good to read.
CT: What do you during the summers?
EN: The first couple of weeks are always devoted to basketball. We get those summer practices, which is good. A lot of states don't.
My wife (Robin) and I work at a summer camp in Maine. It's good to get out of the heat.
CT: What kind of camp is it?
EN: All sports camp. It's basically our vacation, get away and have some fun.
CT: How long do you guys go up for?
EN: Usually about a month.
CT: How did you get connected with that camp?
EN: I went there as a kid.
CT: Was it something your parents found for you?
EN: My mother is from the Northeast so when I was younger, she started looking for a place and found that.
CT: Did you go all through college, too?
EN: Yeah. I'd rather be up there than down here during the summer. It's always tough getting back here in August. You talk about culture shock, that's weather shock.
CT: You and Robin have a daughter. How old is she now?
EN: She's just over 2.
CT: She went to the camp this summer? Did she have fun?
EN: Oh yeah. It was actually really good for her development, just being around so many people. She was good. She used to just run around all day, collect as much dirt as she possibly could.
CT: Are you going to teach Abby how to play basketball?
EN: Rob and I were talking. We open the door but we don't push them through. We definitely don't push them through, close the door and lock it. If she's interested in basketball, we'll go with basketball. If she's interested in piano, we'll go with piano.
We want to show her and let her go where she wants.
I'd like to think, just because Robin runs marathons and I've always been active in sports, that Abby would find something active to do. Whatever that is.