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Troup coach getting opportunity

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

There were plenty of reasons why the 2019-2020 season was the most successful one in the history of the Troup High girls’ basketball program.

It started with the talented and committed players, who gave it everything they had during practices and games.

It also helped that Troup had a dedicated staff that included assistant coach Monica James, who head coach Carla Thornton relied on heavily during a memorable season that ended one victory short of a state championship.

“She helped develop some of those girls that were in middle school that came to me and started to help turn things around,” Thornton said of James, who coached at Long Cane Middle School before joining the Troup staff in 2017. “And then to have her working with me on my staff, she brought so much to the table.”

James, who was at Troup for the past three seasons, is moving on after accepting the head-coaching position on the Effingham County girls’ basketball team.

James has treasured her time at Troup and Long Cane, but she’s looking forward to moving to the southeastern portion of the state where her parents live.

“It definitely was not an easy decision, and even when I talked to coach Thornton, I told her I had no intention of coaching anywhere else besides Troup County, but I just thought that at this time the best option for me is to move closer to my family,” James said. “Being away for nine years, you can imagine with time, people get older, parents get older, and I just thought now more than ever this is the time I need to be back, just to help out more, especially with my parents.”

After coaching for six seasons at Long Cane and leading the girls’ program to five consecutive league titles, James joined the Troup staff for the 2017-2018 season.

Thornton gave James, and all of the coaches, a lot of responsibility.

“I kind of run it like a football team where you have an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator. I delegate responsibilities like that,” Thornton said. “She helped me. We worked on defense together. She worked on guards, and I had another coach work on posts. She was able to develop my players, and have good relationships with them, and be like another mother to them. And she was somebody they could talk to outside of basketball. There’s a lot on my plate already, and I needed help. I can’t thank her enough. Even when my grand-dad passed, I missed practice for a few weeks, and she helped take charge and lead things in my absence. It worked out. We didn’t miss a beat.”

For her part, James said she “was grateful and blessed that (Thornton) gave me the opportunity to move up along with the girls I coached in middle school. The fact that she put her trust in me for so long and allowed me to have a lot of input, it really prepared me.”

The 2019-2020 season was one that will always be meaningful for James.

Troup went unbeaten in the regular season, and it finished with a 27-2 record after losing to Americus-Sumter in the Class AAAA state-championship game.

“It’s hard to me to leave (the players) right now,” James said. “It was kind of hard for me to tell them.”

James was a prep basketball standout at Bryan County High School in Pembroke, and she went on to play the sport at North Florida Community College before finishing her bachelor’s degree at Georgia Southwestern State, and she later earned a master’s degree from Columbus State University.

At Long Cane Middle School, James enjoyed the challenge of helping develop players who arrived with a minimal skill set.

“In middle school, it’s all about building the fundamentals,” James said. “At a young age, everybody’s coming to middle school thinking they’re LeBron James or Steph Curry, but can’t even make a fundamental layup. It’s definitely exciting to see them grow from middle school, coming in in the sixth grade to graduating.”

During James’ first season at Troup, the team had a winning record while earning a spot in the state tournament.

Troup went 17-9 during the 2018-2019 season while making it back to the state tournament, and everything fell into place last season.

James will be leaving behind a program that is thriving to lead one that won one game last season.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it, but at the same time, I’m nervous,” James said. “I’m leaving a program that won 27 games last year, and I’m moving into a new program that has not won 27 games in five years. Last year, they only won one game. So I know it’s going to be a challenge. Every asks me what are your expectations, what do you plan on doing? And I keep telling everybody, my biggest thing is to go in and just build relationships, and build that trust. And I feel if I do that, everything else will fall in place.”

James believes Troup was successful in part because of the trust the players had in the coaches, and that’s something she’ll attempt to duplicate at Effingham County.

“When you build that relationship, and you build that trust, your players are going to want to go all out for you, they’re going to want to give you 110 percent,” James said. “For me, that’s the first thing I’m worried about. I’m not concerned about the wins and losses that first season. My thing is building those relationships, making sure they trust me.”

James appreciates everyone who has helped her during her time in Troup County, including Thornton, as well as current Long Cane Middle School principal Whitney Glisson and assistant principal Keita Placide.

James is also grateful to former Long Cane principal Chip Giles, who her her nearly a decade ago.

Thornton will miss James, but she fully understands her reason for leaving.

“I’m real big on family,” Thornton said. We talked about it, and I told her I put family above everything, and that’s what you feel is best for you, you have my blessing, you have my full support, and I know you’ll do well. The people down there called me, and asked about her, and of course I gave her a great recommendation. I want what’s best for her.”