SPRINGFIELD — Monica James knows a thing or two about developing winning teams.
The new head coach of the Effingham County girls basketball team helped turn Troup County into a 27-2 state title contender last season after going 13-10 in her first season as an assistant coach three years ago.
Although her new team won just one game last season, James isn’t deterred. She found herself in a similar situation when she served as the head coach of the Long Cane Middle School girls basketball team in Lagrange.
The Cougars went winless the year before she took over and James won just one game in her first season at the helm. Things turned around quickly, however, and the team went on to win five region championships.
“It was a learning experience,” James said. “I had to go back to the drawing board. I said I am not going to focus on wins and losses. I am going to focus on fundamentals. And when I focused on fundamentals and developing my players, that next year, even though we had ten losses, we ended up winning a championship. We started off losing but midseason something just clicked.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge and I know I have my work cut out for me but I don’t want to focus on wins and losses. I want to make sure my players are developed and well knowledgeable of the game. I feel as though if I instill those things, the wins will come.”
The move to Effingham County has felt like a homecoming for James, who spent nearly a decade in Lagrange. A native of Pembroke, she played at Bryan County before going to North Florida Community College and Georgia Southwestern State.
“I’ve been in Lagrange, Georgia, for nine years,” James said. “I didn’t have any family there. Most of my family is in this area — Pembroke, Savannah and Macon area. Being away from my family for so long — I always said when the right opportunity comes, I want to take advantage of it.”
The absence of summer activities because of COVID-19 puts James in a bind. With the season just a few months away, the summer months are crucial for coaches to develop their players.
“Unfortunately, this summer, I don’t have the opportunity to go in and work with them for summer workouts, having some tournaments and scheduling some games this year due to COVID-19,” James said. “So, it is very hard to pinpoint the offense I would like to run when I am not able to practice with them and see some of their strong points versus their weaknesses.”
With it being her first year as a head coach, James is looking forward to building a brand of basketball that starts with being successful in the basic skills. She intends to have an impact beyond the court, too.
“It’s exciting but I’m definitely nervous,” James said. “I am blessed to be in a position where I was offered a position. My biggest thing when it comes to coaching is I don’t want it to be all about what takes place on the basketball court. I want to prepare my kids for the real world. I want all my kids to go to college, even if it’s not on an athletic scholarship. My thing is preparing them for the real world and being the person they can depend on.
“Being hard on my players on the court, that’s one thing, but when you are able to build that relationship with your players and they can trust and confide in you, and you guys build a family, I think that is big and that’s one thing I try to focus on the most.”