By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH Ga. — By the time Scott Queen got to the end of his new boys basketball coach’s bio, he knew that, if nothing else, he had to see him face to face.
“That last line of his bio,” Queen began. “You know, he’s got two boys, and the last thing he said was ‘My goal is to train my boys up in Jesus Christ.’ I get choked up now, just talking about it. All that meant was we knew we had to get him in for an interview.”
After that, the two-week chain of events that led to Tuesday’s announcement of the hiring of former Emanuel College associate head coach Derrick Mason was a quick work, and one that Queen believes was divinely orchestrated.
“We are Eagle’s Landing Christian School,” Queen said, putting the emphasis on the word, “Christian.” “That’s the thing that makes us different from other schools. We went through so, so many resumes and people going through the interview process, and things just weren’t comfortable. But with Derrick, we feel like we’ve got a great coach, a great teacher, someone who’s going to teach fundamentals and model Jesus every day. That last piece, we have to have. We can’t just make a hire only on being a great coach alone.”
To be sure, Queen believes he indeed has the total package in Mason.
Before coming to ELCA, Mason spent the last seven years at Emmanuel College, a school in Northeast Georgia that competes in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). The school’s men’s basketball team won the NCCAA national championship this past month.
Emmanuel became a bit of a NCCAA power during Mason’s stint there, making four national tournament appearances and reaching the national championship game one other time. Mason was the school’s recruiting coordinator, giving him a direct hand in the kind of talent that Emmanuel attracted and developed over the years.
And although leaving the school was one of the most difficult things Mason said he’s ever had to do, the Atmore, Ala. native said the perfect fit ELCA provided made the choice easier.
“Basically, we made the decision to come here for two main reasons,” Mason said. “First, the quality of education here. I felt this particular school gave my kids the opportunity to succeed academically. But then it was also the family atmosphere. It’s a family oriented environment here at ELCA. There’s a lot of love. It reminds me a lot of Emmanuel College.”
Mason was introduced to the team Tuesday by Queen, the school’s athletic director during a short meet-and-greet in the school’s Chapel, and as the new coach addressed his new players, he already sounded like he was ready to pace the sidelines for a game.
“In a way I am,” Mason said. “I talked to them about expectations and how I watched footage of them from last year, and I told them it was unacceptable. Just their approach to the game of basketball offensively and defensively. The lack of effort, inconsistency and lack of motivation. Those things are important, foundational tools to being successful, and I just didn’t see that from them.”
Which probably can be attributed to the Chargers’ 4-19 record this past season.
ELCA hasn’t had a winning season in at least five years, which puts the hoops program in a designation that the rest of ELCA athletics can’t really relate to right now.
“Anybody across the state of Georgia knows how our athletic program has just exploded in the last five or so years,” Queen said.
“But that really hasn’t happened for our boys basketball program. So this was an important hire for us. We have the kids to do here (in basketball) what football and softball and track and the other sports are doing. It may not be instant. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but we believe this hire could be the piece to get it done.”
Mason said the work begins this summer, with more of an inward focus. ELCA won’t participate in summer basketball leagues or tournaments this year. Mason said he wants to use the time to work on the men in the mirror.
“We’re going to go into our own gym, close the door and dig into the fundamentals,” he said. “We’re going to go back and learn how to play the game of basketball again.”
Which means the door will be wide open for new players to prove themselves, and older players to prove they still belong.
“We’re going to be defensively good,” he said. “We’re going to contest every shot and clear the boards. Offensively, shot selection is huge. And we want to play the third side of the floor consistently. Everybody will get the chance to show what they can do.”
But that doesn’t mean anybody’s previous place on the team is secure.
“Just because you were on the team last year, doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be on the team next year,” Mason said.