Coaching at any level of sports is a complicated task of its own, but helping teenage boys develop into mature young men on and off the basketball courts is another complex assignment.
For 52 years, legendary Newton County High School Basketball Coach Ronald Bradley dedicated the majority of his life to do just so. Breaking records, winning championships and mentoring players along the journey, during his last 10 years of coaching. Among his many accomplishments, which included developing a number of players Bradley had a lasting impact on, was a young upcoming head coach, Rick Rasmussen.
Rasmussen came to Newton in the late ‘90s under Billy Hendrix. Now coaching at Newton for 16 years (nine as a head coach), Rasmussen embraces what Bradley did for his career and considers him a friend.
Bradley was the head coach at Newton County for 21 years taking over in 1959, and winning a state championship in only his sixth year as a head coach. In 1964, Bradley coached Newton County to a (35-1) record as the team dominated their way through the State AA tournament for the championship. His reputation only grew more and more in Newton County. During his first tenure at Newton, his teams broke a national record for winning 129 straight games at home.
“My wife’s family is from Newton County, and they all were kids when the streak of 129 straight home wins and state championship happened,” Rasmussen said. “So, I had already heard about this legend.”
After coaching in Florida in 2001, Bradley wanted to return back to the school that started it all. Bradley remained at Newton from 2001 to 2005. In his last season at the helm, Bradley led a 17-9 Newton team to the final four.
“His last year here was the 2004-2005 runner-up team where we just made this amazing run to the final four. We were only like 17-9 when the run started and we won three state playoff games,” Rasmussen said. “We were 18-9, and we were region runner-up, and we ended up 21-10, and went to the final four. Then he left, and I got the head job and he recommended me. It was a great four years, a real blessing on my coaching career and you know we're still friends.”
In Bradley’s return, he recognized the potential in Rasmussen as an assistant coach, and together they bonded from the start. Even in his earlier days with Bradley Rasmussen’s old-school style helped the relationship between the two. Because of Bradley being in his late 60s, Rasmussen assisted in bridging the gap between the young players and Bradley.
“As you get older I think it does make it more challenging to relate to your players. I think where coach Bradley and I fit so well was that I was able to help bridge the gap, when he's late 60s and the kids are 17. So he and I work really well together. I totally understood him, and I had a lot of one on one conversation with the players to help make sure we all understood each other,” Rasmussen said. “I think I learned coaching just isn't the Xs and Os, it's the psychological factors of having relationships with people and your players. There all types of things that tear us – as head coaches – apart from our team if we are not careful. But, your real priority is to your team. As a coach, your job is to get your players ready so that I think I learned from him.”
“I am not arrogant to where I think if I am younger I am better than someone who is older,” Rasmussen explained. “Basically, I bought in to his style and system.”
During the four years they had together, Newton collectively went 76-39 during that span. The 2002-2003 team went 22-7 and won the region title. After the 2004-2005 season, Bradley decided to leave Newton for good. In 2005, the Rasmussen era started as he took over as head coach for Newton High School Basketball.
“I remember thinking about how easy the transition would be,” Rasmussen said. “I was already very involved in decision-making.”
As Rasmussen took over, not much changed for Newton. Because Rasmussen decided to continue running Bradley’s system, Newton didn’t really undergo any major changes systematically. Fundamentals, discipline, preparation and practice were clearly the foundation for both coaches and their system.
“The biggest principle we still hold is fundamentals and discipline,” Rasmussen said. “If you're not fundamentally sound and disciplined, you're not going to be successful especially if you don’t have as much talent. You can compete on smarts if you don't have as much talent, but if you don't compete with smarts and you don't have as much talent then you're in trouble.”
Even now as Rasmussen has put in different sets and changed the defenses Newton uses, a lot of it is very similar to those of Bradley.
“I've put in some different sets. I've put in some different plays, and I've tweaked the defenses we used. But, a lot of it is really similar,” Rasmussen said when asked how his current system is different from the one Bradley taught him. “There were a few times we played each other’s team. The players are looking at each other going, ‘Dang these plays have the same names.’ It was funny.”
As the years have grown on, Rasmussen, now known in the community as “Coach Ras,” has gone on to have his own success. He’s showed that even though a lot of his basketball expertise has come from Bradley, he’s still his own man.
In his current tenure with Newton, Rasmussen has two region championships and one Final Four appearance of his own. Going into this season, Rasmussen needed 17 wins to reach 200 wins. His team has already racked up 11 going (11-1) so far this year.
Bradley totaled over 500 wins at Newton. Rasmussen is aware of that number as he approaches 200 wins for his career, but he also knows he’ll never catch his mentor.
“I'll never get 500 wins at Newton, but winning percentage man we're pretty close,” Rasmussen said with a smile. “We're right there. It’s a different day and age. I'm so thankful we're in a different era. I'll never have the wins that he had. I won't be alive long enough to get 500 wins at Newton, which is fine.
“I'm proud of the fact that when I was an assistant we had two region championships and went to the final four,” Rasmussen added. “I have two region championships and went to the final four myself with our talent in our program. I'm proud that we've continued on the tradition, there has been no drop off. I'm proud to continue on the tradition of those coaches before me. A real blessing to my coaching career was working with coach Bradley.”