COVINGTON, Ga. -- As parents and players listened intently to their new head coach in the Newton High School media center, the newly hired Charlemagne Gibbons laid out his plan for Newton boys basketball for the upcoming months.
For nearly an hour, Gibbons spoke to the anxieties and concerns the Newton community has had since the departure of longtime coach Rick Rasmussen.
Gibbons wanted to ensure that he was bridging the gaps that exist between him and the parents of the players he’ll be coaching once his contract at Florida Atlantic University ends.
While basketball was on everyone else’s mind, Gibbons spoke for nearly 10 minutes before delving into anything concrete about basketball.
“I really talk about things that guys can do that take no talent,” Gibbons said while addressing parents and players Thursday evening. “I think if you’re going to be a great program, going to be a great player, you got to be able to do the things that take no talent.”
Gibbons made sure to address the importance of academics and being involved in the Newton community through mentorship programs.
Right from the start, the Gibbons era will begin and end with opening up the Newton program and inviting others to be a part of the Rams' extended family. Gibbons went as far as bringing up the feasibility of bringing a booster club to Newton High.
“One of the things I would like to do involving the brand is open up our program up more to the community,” Gibbons said. “I want our program to be open; I want this to be a place where the community feels like they’re part of the program. The guys need to make sure they feel like they’re a part of the community. Basketball is not separate from the Covington community, so I want to make sure that we open those doors from that standpoint.”
Having the support of the city is a significant point of emphasis for Gibbons and one the parents seemed receptive to working on.
But ultimately it was how the players perform on the court and get to the next level that was a consensus concern for those in attendance.
Michael Calloway, father of Newton shooting guard and rising senior Maxwell Calloway, was particularly impressed with Gibbons knowledge of the collegiate landscape.
“If he’s got a great relationship with these coaches, whether it’s D-I, D-II, [Junior College], D-III, I mean that’s all good for the players in this program,” Michael said. “I feel like my son’s a senior and he’s going to need some guidance in that area And when you have a coach that has a great relationship with these college coaches and the player performs well, that can only help the player move on to the next level.”
Coming from FAU, a Division I program, Gibbons was able to speak extensively to the process of recruitment and preparing for the college game – starting with getting in shape as an athlete.
Beginning the Tuesday after Memorial Day, Gibbons says the gym will be open all summer for players to come in and have non-mandatory workouts. The concept of an open-gym is something distinct to coach Gibbons, a practice that wasn’t present under coach Rasmussen.
For Armani Harris, a senior player who has signed to play at Kennesaw State next year, he was excited about the players having a chance to call the gym their own.
“We really didn’t have that as much in our high school careers," Harris said. "So for them to always have the gym open for [the team], to always go in there, especially in the future, I feel like that is going to be a great move for them as well, too.”
Gibbons wants his players to be prepared to play an up-tempo style of basketball, and that preparation starts with training and practicing with pace. The 42-year-old coach wants to bring a collegiate-like approach to the Newton program – even down to game-day attire.
His first-hand experience while being a part of former FAU head coach Michael Curry's coaching staff for four years should make giving that exposure to Newton athletes easy.
“Having an influence like Micheal Curry, who's not just know for what he’s done NBA-wise, but what he’s done in the business world, what he’s done all over and he took me under his wing,” Gibbons said. “We talked a lot of how you carry yourself administratively and how you carry yourself as a team. When we were at the Division I level, our kids had to travel with tailor-made suits in the airport.
"We had kids who didn’t want to wear suits at first and all of a sudden, a year later, all they wanted to do was wear suits because they’re preparing for what happens after basketball.”
Gibbons expressed to the parents that he would like his players to take up the practice of wearing a team polo and khakis on game days so that the players understand how to carry themselves as professional young men.
Curating a program that focuses on creating respectable young men is precisely the kind of leadership Newton athletic director Vincent Byams was looking for.
“I think he’s the right guy to take us to the next level,” Byams said. “Not just on a basketball level but on the development of, as I talked about before, he’s probably the guy who is going to be able to bring our kids to understanding the concept of being part of a team, and how to carry yourself in and outside of the building.”
Over time, the differences under Gibbons will, no doubt, vary from the subtle to the more obvious, but one change is that Gibbons won’t be counting his win totals as head coach.
“I told Mr. Byams earlier; I said ‘listen I don’t know how many career wins I got, I got one win in my life – state champion,’” Gibbons said.
It’s that level of focus and efficiency that turned a room full of anxious, inquisitive people into believers of the new coach set to roam the Rams sidelines.