Keith Arrington, 54, is the head boys basketball coach at Peachtree Ridge. The veteran coach of 32 years has coached across the state of Georgia from near his hometown in Augusta to Savannah and now to Peachtree Ridge.
The native of Jefferson County sat down with staff writer Ben Beitzel in this installment of "Getting to Know..." to talk about his love of basketball, living his father's dream, a genuine dislike of coaching against his older brother and adapting to the 3-point shot.
BB: Where all have you coached?
KA: (deep breath) ...
KA: Just about. Different times. I started out at Briarwood Academy, eight years, because I was a head coach, immediately. Then Wheeler County, which is about at rural as you can get. Then North Augusta High School, which is in South Carolina right across the line, then Savannah, which is a little bit more inner-city and then here. So it's kind of been the gamut of different schools and different situations.
BB: What made you come here from Savannah?
KA: Just wanted to get in a better teaching situation, my wife and I. She was actually teaching at Savannah High and I just wanted to get in a better situation. From a basketball standpoint, Savannah is great. I just wanted a better teaching situation.
BB: What got you into basketball, say, rather than football?
KA: My dad (Billy) loved basketball. He is a very good high school basketball player and wanted to be a coach. His dad died when he was 12 years old. He had a scholarship to what is now Georgia Southern, whatever it was called then. But when his dad died he started working and never went and just stayed and supported his family. His love of basketball (showed) in the yard and playing with us. Some of my fondest memories are him taking me and my brother out of school, going to Macon when they used to have everybody playing in the state tournament there and just stay all day watching basketball. We'd stay all day.
You probably don't know, but Nu-Way wieners is a big thing, a hot dog place. We'd go in there and eat Nu-Way wieners and you felt like it was the best hot dog you'd ever eaten in your life.
BB: Does he come watch you coach?
KA: He used to come all the time, but as he's gotten older and he doesn't come as much. He has not come this year, but he's always come to games. I think if we continue winning, he'll probably come to a game. You have to remember my brother (Donnie) coaches, too at Effingham County, so he feels like if he comes to mine he's got to go to his. It's just the travel part. He loves, loves it. Loves it.
BB: Well, his two boys are doing what he wanted to do.
KA: Yeah. He's had a lot of fun being around basketball. He talks about the gyms he's been to and places he's been from going to watch us.
He was probably a better player than I ever was, or my brother.
BB: Did you ever coach against your brother?
KA: Yeah. He used to be in Lyons at Tombs County and when I was at Wheeler County we were actually in the same region. We don't, we don't like that. We were in the same tournament this year in Spartanburg (S.C.) but it was two different brackets. We asked, 'Just don't put us in the same bracket.'
BB: So you don't like to do it?
KA: No. It's probably, you don't want to lose, but if you do win you don't enjoy it as much as you should. It's just tough.
He was older than me by a year-and-a-half and I could tell you stories about fights we'd get into. Now, you didn't want to mess with us or we'd be on you, but in the yard, we'd get in a fight playing pick-up basketball. Pretty competitive, yeah.
If we played, my parents wouldn't come to that. They wouldn't want to watch.
BB: You said your dad was better. What kind of a player were you?
KA: I was kind of a tweener -- and in some ways it helped me be a better coach -- I had a point guard mentality, but was too slow to be a point guard. I didn't shoot it great, shot it well enough. Kind of one, two and I learned a little bit about posting up. It didn't make me a great player, but probably made me a little bit better (as a coach).
BB: What's your favorite thing about coaching?KA: I still love taking a kid that wants to work and just seeing him get better; making him, individually, better. That is one thing I pride myself on and our program is we take ... if you are wiling to work, we'll take a kid and you'll get better. If you want to work, we'll work you pretty good. Individual work, that is something I pride myself in.
BB: In 32 years what's the biggest change you've seen?
KA: You have kids moving and going to different schools and we get kids here. You wish kids would be a little bit loyal and I understand that things happen, but too many times kids leave because things aren't perfect. Well, we both know that life is not always perfect and you have to figure out a way to overcome it and make the best of it. That's part of it. And in basketball when I first started we were a throw it inside, post-up first. I've kind of changed, the 3-point shot has changed things a lot. I have always been a man-to-man guy first. The 3-point shot has played a lot in the change of it. A lot of what I do, I even call stuff the same as when I first started.
BB: How long did you coach without the 3-point shot?
KA: About six years. ... It changes the game so much. ... In the NCAA tournament you get some small school and they rattle in these 3s and they are playing with more mature guys because they don't leave early, upset.
BB: It does equalize things.
KA: Guards. It just changes so much. If you think about it, you shoot 33 percent from 3 that's the same as shooting 50 percent anywhere else. It's just different. I guess that's the biggest change and it's made a difference in every level of basketball.
BB: Does your wife, Linda Ward, come to games?
KA: She takes stuff too personal. She used to go to every game, but it's kind of changed, which is good for her. During the season she needs things to do, friends and that sort of thing. ... She's given me a lot more balance in my life. When I was younger, basketball was it, if you lost it drained you. Now I can go home and see she still loves me, it's OK. She's given me a lot more balance and that's a good thing. It will probably help me coach a lot longer.
BB: Do you watch a lot of basketball?
KA: I don't as much. When I was a single guy it was almost like a religion. I'd watch the 11 p.m. game that was coming on. All of them. But I watch a pretty good bit now. Saturdays and Sundays I still love to watch it. I like college more than the NBA. I like watching the Big 10 this year. I like watching Gonzaga and Butler and those guys. Sometimes you see a better skilled game, not as athletic, but as skilled.