SPRINGFIELD — On the hardwood at Effingham County, head coach Jake Darling is amped for what could be a special season. His goals for the basketball community go beyond coaching his team, however.
Darling would like to expand the program and add a ninth-grade squad. He’s been working alongside the middle school program and is excited to see the expansion of what Effingham County basketball will look like down the road.
“We are trying to build three teams at the high school level and keep the kids involved,” Darling said. “I am trying to help at the middle school as much as I can. My kids are now coming up through the rec department playing basketball.
“I offer any support to the coaches that I can. I let them come and watch practice just to build a basketball community here in the county that kids can be proud of.”
In his sixth season at Effingham County, Darling has had plenty of talent. The size of Effingham County doesn’t provide the largest pool to pull from but Darling has proven you can be successful with the players in his backyard.
“We've won more games this year (13) than we did last year,” Darling said. “We don’t have transfers coming in to save our program. We have an established program that is going to flow kids through.
“We have a lot of talent.”
But Darling does have the luxury of having several families that have more than one son to come through the program.
“There are a lot of strong roots here and families here,” Darling said. “You see that in our program. Khiry and Keion Wallace have cousins that have been in the program. The Roper family, Dameon and Rashad, and the Scotts, Randy and Rashad Scott. And Shemar and Samari Westbrook.”
The expansion of basketball in the area starts with the recreation department. Having a good influx of kids taking the court during summer camp gives them memories they’ll never forget but also instills a sense of pride knowing they can compete for the varsity team one day.
But it’s been Darling’s reputable behavior as a coach that has gained the trust of those who come through his program. He’s all about putting his players in positions to get noticed by college recruiters and helping them reach new heights in their game.
“(It’s about) having those close relationships to those kids and putting them in situations they can be successful in,” Darling said. “That is why we went to Florida to put them in front of different people and some of those guys got interest from the success we had.”
In a world where rabid fan bases are quick to pull their kids out of one school and send them elsewhere, Darling benefits from being part of a community that values small-town living, a well-recognized school system and kids who know how to play as a team.
“I think our school system has a lot to do with it,” Darling said. “Our school district is one of the top-performing school districts in the state. I think that is what keeps people here.
“They feel their kids are safe here and their kids are learning.”