Brumfield's unusual journey brings success, stability to Oak GroveBy ANDREW ABADIE,
Six years ago, the hope of being considered the No.1 ranked team in the state of Mississippi was as far-fetched as having a coach staying more than one year for the Oak Grove boys’ basketball program.
Bringing back consistency to the Oak Grove basketball program was the main priority for head coach LaRon Brumfield. Currently the Warriors sit in first place in the 6A Region 5 standings and hold a 15-2 overall record.
Prior to hiring Brumfield, Oak Grove experienced four different coaches in a four-year span.
Ironically enough, as a high school basketball player from Franklinton, Louisiana, Brumfield had four different head coaches in high school. According to Brumfield, that experience combined with playing for longtime William Carey basketball coach Steve Knight helped develop his understanding of basketball.
“I tell people all the time that I had four different high school coaches,” Brumfield said. “I think that even gave me an edge when I got this job. I wanted to make sure to have some consistency here.
“[Steve Knight] gave me a shot. He really taught me how to play the game of basketball.”
Despite having been a grad assistant and assistant coach under Knight for 12 years, coaching basketball did not appear to be Brumfield’s immediate calling. Before he first took an assistant coaching job at Oak Grove, Brumfield served as a youth minister for seven years at Mount Olive Baptist Church.
“When I first left William Carey, I was originally then working on my teaching certification,” Brumfield said. “My pastor at the time asked me to take over the youth ministry. I really thought that I would work in the church for the rest of my life. I love working with kids, but the coaching bug got back on me.”
Brumfield credits his time as a youth minister in helping develop his coaching skills and also his ability to connect with kids.
“[At Mount Olive Baptist Church], we had all different types of kids you have to deal with, with tutoring programs, after school programs [and] a day care. Working at the church we dealt with all types of situations. I remember a time where a kid came up to me and said I just want to go to sleep and not wake up. That’s depressing for us. I couldn’t get sad in the moment. I had to find a way to motivate that kid and see what was going on with him in that moment. Now that kid is an adult and very successful.
“I’m able to relate to a lot of the things from coaching at William Carey, working at the church and working here and dealing with so many different types of people. Working with the church has made a significant impact with the way I’m able to deal with the kids here.”
At the same time, Brumfield began establishing a love for the Oak Grove community from his daughter, Rayna Brumfield, who was a four-year varsity starter on the girls’ basketball team.
“The biggest thing with where the program was and what made me want this job was because my daughter played here,” Brumfield said. She graduated in 2014. She started with the varsity her freshman year and so I was at all the games. Just seeing the coaches go in and out and seeing that there was talent here. I started having a passion for these kids. I wanted the kids to have more. Not having anything against the coaches that were one and done because they all left for great opportunities, going to coach at the next level or moving up in an administrative role in high school.
“A lot of the kids I knew and I saw them grow up. They liked basketball and I just didn’t think they were getting a fair shot at having a coach that wanted to be here to care for them and wanted to see the program and them grow.”
According to Brumfield’s son Dylan who averages 11.6 points per game this season, seeing his dad change the program was no surprise.
“[I thought the program] was terrible,” Dylan said. “I thought he could change it for the better. Look at where we are now.
“His attitude about everything [is what makes players want to play for him]. He is always positive and is not negative. He is always trying to persevere through things even in the hard times and fight.”
Before his daughter’s senior season in 2014, Brumfield earned his teaching certification and immediately applied for the boys’ heading coaching job, but it did not turn out as he had expected.
“I’ll never forget when [former head coach] Austin Alexander left, I was in my house and [former players] Deonte Spates, Ashton Pierce and Derrick Ashley and a bunch of the kids are at my house shooting the basketball.I know them and they know my daughter, so they were shooting. I go online to check my scores because I hadn’t passed the writing part of the test in practice. I passed the reading the first time, it took a couple times to pass the math and so it was about the third time on my writing. I’m 40 something years old taking a practice test. I hadn’t taken a standardized test in years. I went online and see that I pass it and I ran outside screaming ‘I’m going to be y’alls next head coach!’ I was excited and running around.
“Next thing you know, I apply for the job and coach Thomas Billups (now Tougaloo head basketball coach) gets it. Who’s going to be mad at that? But he called and needed an assistant coach. Even then I knew that he wouldn’t be at Oak Grove long. I figured he would be here three years tops. Of course, he stays one year and I’m able to get the job.”
After earning the job and posting a 20-13 record in his first season as head coach. Brumfield’s coaching style changed in his second year after finishing 7-21.
“In order to have any type of success you are going to have some low times,” Brumfield said. “It was rough. If we did certain things down the stretch, we could have won 10 or 12 games that year. But the kicker was when we were playing here against McComb and they were really good. They beat us by 50 and coaches were calling me asking if they were that good. I wasn’t embarrassed and it made me want to work harder. I said coaches are not going to be calling me talking about if that team was that good. I made up my mind and I [told the team] ‘Guys, the easiest thing to do for us as a team is to come out here and quit. But the hardest thing is coming out here every day and work hard. I’m going to work hard for you every day.’ I started preparing practice like I had a championship team.
“The next year that same team came in and we won 16 or so games. When they became seniors, I think they won 20 games. It started a mentality where it doesn’t matter where you are, how many games you win, how good you are, but you have to prepare a certain way. I wanted my team to prepare that way so as a coach I had to prepare that way. That loss really made me look at myself.”
For junior Jay Barnes, who leads Oak Grove with an average of 18.2 points per game this season, what has makes Brumfield a great coach is his passion to watch his players succeed.
“He is a really good coach,” Barnes said. “He has us in the right moments at the right time.
“He cares for you. He honestly cares for you. You want a coach that cares for you and that’s on you so you can be the best you and that’s Coach Brumfield. He is not going to let you slack. That’s what really makes you want to play for him. He really cares because he’s on you 24/7 trying to get you to do what’s best for you.”
Including last season, Oak Grove has a combined record of 40-8. According to Brumfield, the main goal and overall secret for his team’s culture is to have a hard working attitude so that it can develop into their everyday life.
“I tell the kids this all the time,” Brumfield said. “If somebody calls an opposing coach on us and asks what does Oak Grove do, I want the first thing that comes out of their mouth is to play hard. I want to teach the kids how to play hard. When I teach them how to play hard, it becomes how and why we play hard. Playing hard – it takes care of things you don’t have. Then it becomes being disciplined. Playing hard and being disciplined. I think if you do that in basketball and translate that into life, then you are going to go a long way. If you work hard and are disciplined on your job, you can go a long way.”