Whittington coaching at his alma mater for more than just wins

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Barry Whittington says "it means the world" to him to be the head coach of his alma mater. Photo by DKMoom Photography.

Some things are more important than wins and losses.

Sure, East Ascension head coach Barry Whittington Jr. would like to see his team turn the corner soon and collect more victories, but he isn't about to be discouraged by a losing record.

Coming back to coach at his alma mater has been a blessing for him, and he knows that molding his players into determined and resilient young men is his most important duty as Spartan head coach.

"Growing up and being a man, it's not as much about what you say, but it's more about what you do," Whittington said. "If you're a hard worker and show up on time, that's what you do. So, I'm trying to get them to understand that and hopefully, that will carry over to their play on the basketball court."

It wasn't that long ago when Whittington was a Spartan himself. When long-time East Ascension head coach Kenny Almond decided to take a job offer in Zachary over the summer, Whittington jumped at the chance to coach at his old school.

"This may sound weird but when you walk in the hallways, it still smells the same; the locker rooms smell the same. It kind of takes me back to being in high school and how much I love being a Spartan," Whittington said. "When I wear my blue and gold, it brings out the pride I have. I loved being there and the fact that I can come back and coach here, it means the world to me."

But along with the excitement of being back home, there has been plenty of adversity.

He had the tall task of having to replace four starters from a team that made it to the state quarterfinals last season.

And to make things worse, East Ascension lost the one starter that they returned in Deandre Jones. Jones was a first-team all-district performer last year but was lost for the year after he sustained a serious knee injury during one of the Spartans' first games of the season.

"Losing [Deandre], to me personally, was an emotional thing because he was on one of the first teams I ever coached when I coached AAU. He played with Courtney (Julien), Nick Griffin and all the other kids," Whittington said. "In the beginning of the season, he tears his ACL going for a ball in a game; that hurt. It obviously hurt the team because of his experience."

Whittington and his young squad never let Jones' injury break them. The win/loss record might not look great, but Whittington is proud of how hard his young squad has continued to play all season.

"I like the fact that they play hard every time we step on the floor. As of late, we've been in the fight in every single game; we just haven't pulled it out," Whittington said. "I'm proud of how hard they're playing; we just have to do the things necessary to win these games. This is a great foundation. If the kids can continue to play hard, it's a great place to start."

Whittington sees many similarities to the team he took over at Donaldsonville.

"In my first year coaching at Donaldsonville, I had older kids, but they played very similar--couldn't close out close games. The team I have here, we're making some of the same mistakes, so we just have to fight through that adversity and take it one game at a time," Whittington said. "We're still fighting for the playoffs. We're going to try to win as many games as we can until the end of the season; that's the goal right now."

That Donaldsonville squad ended up making it to the state semifinals the next year.

But the wins and losses and trips to the playoffs are not the only thing Whittington is concerned about as he leads this young Spartan unit. He wants to make them better people.

"I want to get this program to where the kids realize that they're playing for something bigger than themselves. I want that to come into the forefront of my coaching," Whittington said. "A lot of times, you get caught up in game plans and lose sight of the bigger picture. I would like to expose my kids to things outside of basketball--like if they're in clubs, try to get them in leadership positions. I want them to be well-rounded students rather than just basketball players.