By TREY WILLIAMS
Daniel Boone alumnus Thomas Gouge set a record at Cleveland State with 234 three-pointers. He knows a good long shot when he sees one.
But he doesn’t see the David Crockett girls basketball program, which he took over last week, as a long shot.
Yes, winning seasons have been scarce for the Lady Pioneers, but they were trending in the right direction prior to coach Tony Gordon leaving the team mid-season this past year, and Gouge sees an excellent opportunity to pick up where he left off.
Gouge quickly noted the experience Crockett returns and the fact that they took Big Seven Conference champion Science Hill to double overtime this past season.
“They return pretty much all of their playing time,” Gouge said. “They were seven or eight deep and they’re all back. We want to come in and contend for the Big Seven (Conference championship) year one. …
“There are six or seven of ‘em that are juniors and seniors that have gotten varsity minutes since they were freshmen. This could be a good year to get things started. Emma Gouge might’ve been their leading scorer as a freshman.”
Gouge was the head coach at Happy Valley the past two seasons after being an assistant under Travis Mains during an impressive run that culminated with a sectional win against Oak Ridge and a subsequent state tournament berth in 2018.
“It’s tough to leave your team, you know,” Gouge said. “I’ve been torn about it. We had two great years at Happy Valley. I have a lot of respect for that community and I appreciate them giving me an opportunity. It was really tough to leave.
“But I’m very excited about getting to join the Lady Pioneers, and I think we’re gonna have a good thing going day one. … A goal for me is to come in in year one and contend in the Big Seven and make the region, hopefully get hot and make a deep run come tournament time. There’s Emma Gouge, Halle Scott, Mackenzie Baldwin, Alyssa Suits, some juniors with Emily Trivette and Norah Walters – a lot of varsity experience.”
Gouge said he always knew he’d like to coach when his playing days were done. He liked the tenacity of Bob Huggins-coached teams and has read books on coaches such as Dean Smith, Bobby Knight and John Wooden.
“As soon as I got done playing college ball, I came home and got a call from Miss Mason at Fall Branch to go coach the boys at 23, and it all started there,” he said. “It’s been a great journey the past 15 years, and hopefully I can do it for 20 or 30 more.”
Of course, it all started with Daniel Boone legend Bobby Snyder. Gouge helped Snyder’s teams win three straight regions at the Class AA level and was a two-time regional MVP. He fondly recalls having a productive game when Boone upset T.W. Josey (Augusta, Georgia) in the Arby’s Classic.
“Coach Snyder was a great mentor,” Gouge said. “He was worried more about what you were doing off the court than on the court, really. He wanted you to be a good person. He taught me a lot about the game and he taught me even more about life.
“My senior year we went to the state tournament in ’99 and that’s the only year Boone’s been to the state tournament. We were playing Marshall County in the first round and they had Marcus Haislip, who was about 6-10. We watched film on him blocking 3-pointers with a foot in the paint. He had crazy length, crazy athleticism. So all week before the state tournament – Coach Snyder figured he’d be guarding me and followed me around in practice with a broomstick having me shooting over it working on getting a little more arch. Sure enough, at the start, Haislip was in my face. But it helped. He guarded me the first half and I think I had 16 or 17 at the half on him, and they switched off and put a no-help on me and a shadow guy on me. …
“They made some adjustments at the half and we ended up falling a little bit short. I think we were up at the half and ended up losing by five or six, maybe.”
Gouge nearly went to Crockett as John Good’s boys basketball assistant years ago, and a Daniel Boone offer materialized around the same time.
“I’d like to thank Dr. (Bill) Flanary, the director of schools, Peggy Wright, the principal at David Crockett, and Josh Kite, the athletic director,” Gouge said. “I think Josh Kite’s done a great job at Crockett for the past decade. He’s definitely changed the culture. You look at the programs one by one, you look at the win totals, the excitement in the community – it’s something I wanted to be a part of.”
Gouge joins Crockett head coaches Hayden Chandley (football), Spencer Street (baseball) and Cody Connell (basketball) that played and/or coached at Daniel Boone.
“It is kind of crazy that there are so many Boone coaches at Crockett,” Gouge said. “But the opportunity just presented itself and it felt right for me at the time. I think I’m stepping into a good program that’s been moving the right direction the past couple of years. I’m just ready to meet the girls, get started working out and see what we can do. …
“I know the Big Seven has been kind of ruled by Science Hill, Dobyns-Bennett and Boone the past decade. We’re gonna try to get over that hump and come in year one and make a splash and see if we can kind of turn the tables a little bit.”