Kevin Strickland is a varsity assistant and head junior varsity basketball coach at Brookwood (Staff Photo: Ben Beitzel)
Kevin Strickland, 34, is the head boys junior varsity basketball coach and varsity assistant coach at Brookwood. The native of Jacksonville, Fla., teaches at Crews Middle School and began coaching while living in Florida.
In this installment of “Getting to Know…” staff writer Ben Beitzel talks with Strickland about his desire to be a head coach, his time coaching one of Steve Spurrier’s sons and his friendship with WWE star Titus O’Neil.
BB: You went to Georgia State from Florida, how did you make it up here?
KS: It’s two parts, really. One part is, I got into coaching and a friend of mine who is WWE superstar Titus O’Neil now, he had a lot of connections, knew that there was a private school that needed an eighth-grade coach, knew that I was kind of looking for something to do, he said, ‘You love sports, you have a passion for basketball, why don’t you go do it? I can set you up with an interview.’ I went over there, coached the eighth-grade team and as soon as I got on the court I fell in love and said this is what I want to do. Both my parents were in education so I knew a lot about it, but I also thought I would try something else. No reason. Once I got on the court I knew that was the case. I actually coached Steve Spurrier’s son at the time. It was kind of interesting being a 20-year-old with no experience in education and coaching and he was up there shaking his head. I am assuming it was about his son, but it could have been me (laughs). After that happened, my brother who was a police officer in DeKalb at the time said, ‘Let’s get focused. Why don’t you come up here and live with me and if this is what you want to be, this is a great place to be.’ So I moved up here, enrolled at Georgia State, poured my heart and soul into coaching, read every book I could, coached camps around the Southeast in the summer and went to high school games all the time.
BB: So your first experience coaching at all was with this eighth-grade team?
KS: Middle school team at a private school with probably 300 students total. They just needed anybody with a pulse and that was me. I just did it as a side job.
BB: So Spurrier never came down and yelled at you for his kid not playing?
KS: No, no. His kid played. He didn’t hit many shots.
BB: Not many undergrads spend their weekends watching high school basketball. Who did you watch?
KS: That was the great thing about it. When I moved here it was a hotbed, it’s still a hotbed, but it was a hotbed with Berkmar going back-to-back, Brookwood was a perennial top-five, top-10 team, (current NBA player and South Gwinnett standout) Louis Williams had just started. The first game I attended was Brookwood and Berkmar. Not sure which year, but Brookwood upset Berkmar and it was pretty big deal, they were coming off back-to-back. I was impressed with how they handled things. It’s kind of ironic that this is where I ended up. After that Louis Williams kind of took over. I went over to North Gwinnett and saw Jared Cook play. It was one of those things, I wanted to see people’s styles, I wanted to see how it worked and I knew I wanted to be involved. From that point on, my brother moved back to Florida, but I was here to stay.
BB: I’m intrigued by your hyper-focus on high school basketball.
KS: My mom was a principal at my high school and my dad was the principal at my brother’s school. So I was around high school sports my whole life. My dad would pick me up every Friday, we’d go to a game, set up the pylons, putting stuff on the goal post, whatever needed to be done, we were there to do. I was intrigued by the colors, the sounds, the smells. I knew it was something I wanted to do, I knew it was something I could do. That is why I picked the high school route.
BB: Do you eventually want to be a head coach?
KS: I do. That’s one of my aspirations to be a varsity coach. The place has got to be perfect for my family. I am not just going to take a job or interview for a job just because it’s available. If it doesn’t fit what we need to accomplish as a family and my wife being able to come to games and be a part of it then I won’t interview.
BB: Did you play basketball?
KS: I was average at best. The story I like to tell is my junior year my coach is going off on the team. He is yelling at each person about why we weren’t executing but then he looks over to me and he points and he says, ‘And this guy, the only reason he plays is because he knows every play from every position and he doesn’t turn it over.’ I was thinking it was because I was lighting it up shooting. But the truth is I really took pride in understanding what it was we were trying to accomplish and the philosophies we had.
BB: How’d you meet your wife, Melinda?
KS: I met my wife working in a restaurant. We worked at a Roadhouse Grill. I guess it would be Duluth near Gwinnett Place Mall.
BB: Do you still go to Roadhouse Grill on dates?
KS: It’s closed.
BB: That’s the peanuts on the floor place?
KS: I think (all those places) can. I learned how to juggle working in the restaurant. I was bored and I picked it up.
BB: The peanuts? That can’t be hard.
KS: They are actually hard because they are light. There is no heft to them.
BB: Is that why Melinda was impressed by you?
BB: Most high school coaches are high school educators, but you teach at a middle school …
KS: I love the middle school. Middle school kids are awesome, they are young enough where you can raise your voice and they react but old enough to do anything you ask them to do. They have great personalities, they play all the sports, they are great people to be around. I got the start there because I did my student teaching there.
BB: Does your older son, Ryan, play basketball?
KS: He does. It’s funny because I think about all the books I’ve read and all the camps I’ve worked and all the preparation has brought me to be his kindergarten team’s coach. And none of it is needed for that job. It’s all about patience and prayer.
BB: You dropped the bombshell in passing that you are friends with the wrestling star Titus O’Neil. How’d that happen?
KS: I met him when I was about 18 years old. His name is Thaddeus Bullard and I lived across the way from him. We became friends, played video games together and ultimately moved in with him and that’s whenever he hooked me up with the gig.
BB: Do you watch him wrestle?
KS: I watch him. I follow him on Twitter. He’s too big-time for me now.
BB: He big-times you?
KS: No, he remembers me. I ran into him in Gwinnett one night, over at the Marriott Hotel.
BB: You aren’t quite the same size, you must not have been workout partners.
KS: Oh, heavens no. I don’t even know where to go with that.