Newly minted Grayson County Lady Cougars basketball coach Daniel Pharris is a realist. Like many skilled athletes, Pharris grew up wanting to play professionally, but the reality that less than one-percent of all high school athletes ever play-for-pay set in as his high school career progressed.
“I have always wanted to get into coaching,” Pharris said. “I always had a basketball in my hand. My dad (Mike) played college basketball at Centre College, and he coached me growing up. Then in high school, everybody wants to be a professional athlete, until you realize you’re not going to be, so that’s when I decided I want to get into coaching.”
Pharris graduated from Grayson County High School in 1999 after scoring over 1,000 points in his career and being named an All-Region performer in both his junior and senior seasons. He played collegiately at Campbellsville for two years before finishing his academic career initially at WKU, and then University of the Cumberlands.
For the last nine years, Pharris has been an assistant coach in the Cougars’ basketball program; first for seven years under the highly successful Todd Johnston, then one year under Caleb Smith, before joining Brad Johnson’s Lady Cougars' staff for the 2013-2014 season. When the rumor mill began churning about Johnson possibly leaving to go home to Barren County, Pharris wanted the head coaching job, and he wasn’t reticent in letting Principal Todd Johnston know his feelings.
“Well, I caught wind of (Johnson) leaving, and I talked to Mr. Johnston and told him if Johnson leaves, I’d like a shot at the job,” Pharris said. “He said ok, and we talked some more and then he hired me. It wasn’t a long, drawn out thing. It was so late (in the year), he had to get something done.”
One might think Pharris would be nervous about entering into his first head coaching gig, but one would be wrong. Instead, Pharris is focused and ready for the first-time challenge.
“No, not really, (I have no trepidation about the job),” Pharris confidently said. “I think I’ve been ready to do it (be a head coach). I’ve just tried to find the right opportunity. But as far as the basketball side of it, I’m very comfortable with coaching and teaching. I don’t think that’ll be a problem. I’m sure there will be issues arise, but I can handle those as they come up."
Perhaps bolstering Pharris’ outlook is his already nine seasons on the bench. In that time he has developed a philosophy about how to coach basketball. A philosophy strongly influenced by Johnston.
“Well, (as far as) philosophy, I took a lot away from Coach Johnston, he was a great coach,” Pharris said.
“He said you have to fit the philosophy to the players you have. You can’t have a system in high school, because … if you want to press and run all the time, you may not be able to do that (because of the players you have).
“But my preferred philosophy is to play fast, play man-to-man defense and press, that’s what I like to do. But I took a lot away from Coach Johnston and I’ll use a lot of what he taught.”
There’s still the fact that Pharris has coached girls basketball for only a single season, but he doesn’t anticipate a big difference in how he will approach coaching young women, as opposed to young men.
“It’s a little bit different,” Pharris said. “Girls can be a little bit more emotional at times, but there’s really not a whole lot of difference besides the speed of the game. They (the girls) really want to play. I think overall, they want to play more than the boys do probably. They really try and want to do well. They’re committed to it; they’re all in, so to speak.
“I think they are basketball players, just like the boys are. So I think if you treat them like basketball players, you’ll get the most you can out of them.”
The loss of only one starter, plus one other major contributor from last year’s 16-15 squad that finished the season strong, winning four of their last six games (and a District 12 championship), should bode well for the 2014-2015 Lady Cougars' chances for a strong showing.
Additionally, beating Apollo in the first round of the region tourney, before falling 67-65 to Meade County in the region semi-finals, should serve to boost both the Lady Cougars’ head coach and player’s confidence as basketball season approaches.
“I think we should be one of the top three or four teams in the region; with a chance to win it,” Pharris stated. “It’s just going to be whoever is playing well at the end (of the season). Last year we kind of caught lightening in a bottle and started playing really well.
“We had a really tough schedule early in the year; played some top 20 teams in the state over Christmas, then we came back in January and got tired and hit a lull at that point. And then districts start to get closer and everybody locks back in, and that’s what made the difference for us.”
With a goal of being one of the top teams in a very tough region, Pharris has set his sights high, for both himself and his team. And with the Lady Cougars bringing back a plethora of experience, the rookie boss has a great opportunity to begin his head coaching career with a hardwood winner.