By TREY WILLIAMS
Former Daniel Boone teammate Hayden Chandley looked like he was having so much fun coaching at David Crockett that Cody Connell decided to join him at their alma mater’s arch rival.
Connell, who played basketball and baseball at Boone (class of ’09), where he was an assistant girls basketball coach this past season, was hired last week as the new David Crockett boys basketball coach.
Former Pioneers coach John Good announced his resignation last month after a six-year stint that produced two of the 49-year-old program’s three sectional berths and only state tournament appearance. Good is now the coach at Unicoi County.
Connell was teammates with Chandley in basketball and baseball at Boone. In his first season last fall, Chandley led the Pioneers football team to the program’s first quarterfinals appearance.
“Hayden and I played baseball and basketball together,” Connell said. “He grew up with my (younger) brother (Kevin). … And just by watching on Facebook and Instagram and all over the news, the support the football team got this past season – that just shows you that the community just loves Davy Crockett. That’s what kind of drew me in. I’m like, ‘Man, I love that. I wanna be a part of that.’ That was a big thing.
“You know what you’re gonna get when you walk in. You know there’s gonna be a lot of people here every ballgame.”
Connell isn’t expecting to scale unprecedented heights in his first season, but he’s inherited the tools, including some of Chandley’s football players, to climb back toward the top of the league.
He’s happy to inherit football stars Donta Hackler and Prince Kollie, as well as point guard Dawson Wagner and perimeter threats Mack Hensley, Eric Dunbar and Mason Britton. Connell coached Wagner during his six-year stint at Liberty Bell Middle School in Johnson City.
“He was there my last year, my point guard,” Connell said. “It’ll be fun to coach him again, because he was a really good player at the middle school level and I’ve watched him become what he is today. … He had a phenomenal game at Boone last year. Mack was shooting lights out and Dawson was driving by guys.
“Dawson was a freshman (last season). Mason Britton will be a junior. Donta will be a senior. Prince will be a senior. Mack and Eric will be seniors, and we’ve got a lot in the sophomore group – a couple of good athletes there. I’m excited.”
Connell coached one year at Gray Middle School before leaving to become the baseball coach at Indian Trail when it was a middle school. He coached his younger brother Kirby at Gray Middle School and two years at Liberty Bell.
Kirby, a left-handed pitcher who was the South Carolina Class 2A player of the year, is a rising freshman at Tennessee.
“He knew what I expected,” Connell said. “He was very good at being that leader I needed on the floor.”
The middle brother of the Connells, Kevin, was a three-sport standout at Boone and another southpaw pitcher who played baseball at The Citadel. He’s an assistant softball coach at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
“Mom (Kim) and dad (Jeff) have always put us in good positions to succeed,” Connell said. “They’ve done an awesome job raising all three of us, I mean, giving us everything we ever needed and ever wanted.”
Connell quickly reeled off a list of additional influences he owes a debt of gratitude: Daniel Boone boys and girls basketball coaches Chris Brown and Beau Hauldren; former Daniel Boone baseball coach Rob Hoover; former Boone basketball coach Ryan Arnold; and Science Hill coach Ken Cutlip.
While coaching Cutlip’s feeder program, Connell had players such as David Bryant, Tate Wheeler, Kirby Connell, Jerriah Love, Drew Morrison, Will Stevens, Kendle Cutlip, Jake Matherne, Jordan McCloyd, Hunter Phillips and B.J. Edwards (Knox Catholic).
“I’ve had a lot of really good athletes,” Connell said. “I’ve always been able to play fast with the athletes that I’ve had. So, depending on what we’ve got – if we have the personnel to do that – I’m gonna love playing a little full-court press. We’re gonna get all over you from the time you pass the ball in. I like to – if we get a rebound we’re gonna go. We’re taking off. We’re gonna get it up the floor. That’s a style I would love to play if possible. …
“I think with the athletes that we have coming back we should be able to do that. That’s the goal.”
David Crockett athletic director Josh Kite is eager to see Connell go about his business.
“Cody has energy that is contagious and we are excited to see how it will transfer over to his program,” Kite said. “He is great a mentor, and he will do an exceptional job leading our student-athletes.”
The energy Kite generates with fireworks, loud music, etcetera always caught Connell’s eyes and ears.
“That was one thing as a coach when I was at Boone,” Connell said. “I think I was telling my mom or dad the other day, like, when you came in Crockett the atmosphere is better than – I mean, it’s amazing. That goes to show you that Kite – he can do it. He’s been awesome to me so far. He’s made me feel welcome and made me feel at home.”
The high-energy Connell intends to have taxing practices and hopes it’ll pay off with a calming confidence on game nights.
“When it’s game time,” he said, “just let ‘em play and not put any more pressure on ‘em.”
He wants to rekindle the atmosphere Crockett had with players such as Patrick Good, Brendan Coleman, Dustin Day and Josh Releford.
“Let’s get the environment like it was when Patrick was here every night,” he said. “You couldn’t even find a seat. So I want to get that back to where it was a couple of years ago. That’s what I’m looking forward to – that environment that I know can be here. …
“There’s only seven coaches that get to coach in this conference. So to be one of the seven – that’s a phenomenal opportunity, and I’m very excited to get going.”
Connell had tryouts and a youth day camp scheduled for May 28. A team camp scheduled by Good is set for next week at King University. A two-day camp at East Tennessee State will come the following week, when Connell hopes to also take the Pioneers to a camp at UNC-Asheville.