By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — Jarvis Tarplin has been around Henry County basketball for a long time.
And we’re not just talking about the last eight seasons he’s spent as an assistant coach under Russ Atkins at Union Grove High School.
Tarplin also had an assistant coaching stint at his high school alma mater Stockbridge when Atkins was the head man there. That was during the “Humphrey brothers” days, as Tarplin likes to call it, when Quinn and Markell Humphrey — both went on to play college ball at Youngstown State and Marshall respectively — were running things on the hardwood.
He also knows about Henry hoops from his days as a player. The 1996 Stockbridge graduate played under Atkins as well as Mark Andrews.
So when Tarplin got word Wednesday afternoon that he had just been tabbed Union Grove’s new boys basketball coach, it made sense. And he sees it, not as an opportunity to start over, but a chance to keep growing.
“I’ve been at Union Grove since we made that turnaround,” Tarplin said. “Before we got there, we weren’t winning a lot of games. Now we’re respectable. But I’m ready to help us make more strides and get to work.”
The Wolverines are coming off a 6-17, 3-14 campaign in 2014-15. This on the heels of posting back-to-back winning seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14 — something that hadn’t been done at the school prior to Atkins’ arrival.
Althought Tarplin had been connected to Union Grove basketball all that time, the new coach said his promotion wasn’t just handed to him on a silver platter.
“I had to go through the whole process,” Tarplin said. “I went through two rounds of interviews, and just the entire process, and they felt like I was the right one for the job.”
The main part of that “they” is Union Grove athletic director Nick Ellis who said Tarplin’s familiarity with the school’s basketball program and his ideas about player development made him a congruent fit with the rest of the school’s coaching staff.
“We’re excited about Jarvis because he is a good representation of the type of coaches we’ve got in the building right now,” Ellis said. “He’s committed and dedicated to working with the kids and making them better. One thing that stood out for him was that he was already looking into team camps and summer programs to develop the players. Plus he just understands the whole Union Grove culture and community, and our expectations in the classroom and as a coach.”
Tarplin takes over for Atkins whose stepping down from coaching “was all his choice,” according to Ellis. But the sense is that Tarplin will, in many ways, attempt to be an extension of what coaching mentors like Atkins and Andrews have taught him.
“I’m going to try to put my own spin on it,” Tarplin said. “The style of play is going to be a lot like what Coach Atkins did. He was a very good coach, and with him taking me under his wing and teaching me all the stuff he knows, I feel like we can really build on what’s already been started here.”
Outgoing senior Ronald Blain said that though he won’t get the chance to play under Tarplin’s chief leadership, he’s seen enough of the coach to know that hiring him was the right move.
“Well, I think it should be him,” Blain said. “He is a good defensive minded coach and loves all of us. He’s a good motivator and communicator in what he wants you to do to make you better on both ends of the floor. And he is just a great guy that I knew I could talk to about more than just basketball with.”
Tarplin said he wants to see his team get bigger and stronger in the weight room. He also wants to see a little more aggression during practices, taking a chapter from the practice style of back-to-back Class AAAA champion Jonesboro.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of Jonesboro’s practices, but those guys get after it,” he said. “They don’t hold back. They really go at each other. That’s my goal for us to get to that point. I don’t know how long it will take, but I want us to learn to go at each other. It’ll make us better players.”
He will lose six seniors, but he said he’s excited about guys like rising senior Tanner Tolbert and rising sophomore Wesley Simpson whom he said could be the Wolverine’s next star.
“Wesley’s gonna be doggone good,” Tarplin said.
And it’s that kind of desire to foster young talent Ellis believes will cause his new hoops coach to bring Union Grove to another level.
“We hate to see Russ (Atkins) step down,” Ellis said. “He did a great job. But we’re also looking forward to what we know Jarvis will be able to do for us in the future.”