Coach Joey Jerome recently completed his 2nd season at the helm of the Heritage School’s basketball program. Both years, his Hawks have won a GISA State Championship. A Georgia native who played at Wheeler High School and then Winthrop University, Jerome is a young, hungry coach who strikes a balance of demanding a lot from his players while also making things enjoyable for them. Below, Jerome speaks with us about the transition from an assistant to head coach, the differences between the 2018-19 & 2019-20 seasons, and how he connects with his players.
2017-18 Record: 22-10 (AAA GISA State Runner-Up)
2018-19 Record: 22-9 (AAA GISA State Champion)
2019-20 Record: 22-7 (AAA GISA State Champion)
You were an assistant at Heritage before becoming the head coach; What are some of the biggest adjustments you’ve experienced while being an HC compared to while as an assistant? Are there any specific advantages or challenges that come with being the head coach?
“The biggest adjustment I’ve experienced while being a HC compared to being an assistant was making sure I stayed relatable to the guys. Making sure they know just because I’m the head coach now doesn’t mean you can’t talk with me and let me know how you’re feeling. When I was an assistant coach the guys and I would always have different conversations and I wanted to make sure they knew that I didn’t want that to change. The biggest advantage now is that I get to run the program how I want. The biggest challenge is getting the guys to buy into my vision. Getting the players to trust me and believe in what I’m telling them was one of my biggest challenges as the head coach.”
You guys were in search of a state championship prior to the 2018-19 season, and now you’ve won back-to-back state titles- What allowed you guys to get over the hump and achieve the ultimate goal of a state championship in consecutive years?
“Confidence!!! In all of my years being at The Heritage School, I think we had the talent to win a state championship but I don’t know if the guys believed it. That was the biggest difference with the previous two teams. They believed that they could win it all. That also might have to do with guys maturing and just believing in their abilities.”
Although you’ve had the same end result each of the last 2 seasons, you’ve had fairly different teams. What was different between this season and last season? Did you have to emphasize or focus on different aspects of the game?
“The difference between last years team and this years team was that guys knew their roles last year. I didn’t have to tell Lance to be a scorer, Kasen to be a playmaker, or Dylan to attack mismatches at the 4 spot. I had to tell every guy on my team this year their role in order for us to be successful. It took awhile but they started to believe it! We had to change our playing style this year. Last year we had a faster pace and more open offense. This year especially at the beginning of the season we had to slow things down and play through Ebe. Towards the end of the season we started playing faster because guys started to play with more confidence. Ju’wel became a knockdown shooter, Connor became a playmaker, and Mac just took over games with his scoring and rebounding. Our role guys like Grant, Jon Jon, Owen & Reece stayed ready when their number was called. I also had to stop being stubborn and change our defensive scheme. Every year since I’ve been at the school we’ve been a man to man defensive team but this year we changed to a matchup 2-3 zone. I had to study 2012-2013 Louisville national championship team and some Syracuse teams just to learn the rotations. We weren’t as good as those teams obviously but it was very effective.”
Sometimes GISA teams can fall through the cracks and go unheard of, but it seems like you do a good job with promoting your players and putting them in a good position to be seen. What is your approach to making sure that your guys get necessary exposure?
“Most of my guys play for the biggest travel teams in GA like Game Elite, AOT, Celtics and Express. They really promote themselves in the summer time which makes it easier for me to get into some of those high school events. I try to just give my guys the best opportunity to play against the best players because schools at the next level want those kids that compete against the best.”
Many people have spoken highly of your ability to develop good relationships with your players and give them confidence- What do you do to form those type of bonds and empower your guys?
“It’s not just about basketball when it comes to my players.. I’m much involved when it comes to school work, playing at the next level, cracking jokes with each other or having basketball debates. Holding those guys accountable off the floor just as I do with them on the floor. I think my guys see that and it makes it easier for them to trust me on the basketball court. It also helps that I can still play and beat them in King Of The Court at any time!!”