By Gabriel Stovall
JONESBORO, Ga. — Dwight Callaway is back on the basketball court where he belongs.
For those who have gotten accustomed to seeing the 12-year Clayton County area coach in the Lovejoy softball dugout or pacing the track while coaching his sprinters, jumpers and throwers, that may sound like a misnomer.
What some may not know, however, is the basketball sidelines represent the place of Callaway’s first coaching love. And now, he’ll get the chance to return to that initial passion after recently being hired as Mundy’s Mill’s new boys head coach.
“(Basketball) is absolutely where I’d want to be more than any other sport,” Callaway said. “Basketball is first to me, and always has been. But I have been successful at the other sports too because (I know) of the psychology of coaching.”
Callaway says that psychology includes knowing what buttons to push with which players, when to push those buttons and also being transparent with parents.
It’s why Lovejoy enjoyed decent success in softball, as far as Clayton County softball teams go, and even moreso in track and field.
But as much as the coach enjoyed tutoring student-athletes in those two sports, there remained an unquenched basketball jones settled deep in the back of his mind.
Calloway spent six years at Lovejoy and five at Riverdale, and it was at Riverdale where he did the majority of his basketball coaching. During that time he started several AAU programs, spent time as the head coach of various middle school squads and also had a stint as an assistant coach.
It was 2010 when he thought he would finally get his chance to pace the sidelines at the helm of a boys hoops program.
“I was offered the head Mount Zion boys basketball job then,” he said. “But GHSA would not let me teach at Lovejoy and coach at Mount Zion in the afternoon.”
And then tragedy happened before he got the chance to pursue other basketball coaching gigs.
While riding with over 100 other motorcyclists down a country road out of Griffin on the way to Pike County, Callaway and his bike took a tumble that threw him to the ground in a crumpled heap.
Callaway broke his leg in two places and severely injured his ankle. The accident, which happened during a charity event, caused him to be sidelined from any coaching for two years while undergoing multiple surgeries.
“I was in a cast for several months initially, and because I had damaged nerves, I had to have physical therapy for almost six months,” he said. “All that, only to have my doctor tell me that the first doctor didn’t fully fix my ankle. My ankle would swell up everyday to the size of a baseball.”
Callaway found himself going back into surgery yet again after his first school year out of commission in order to remove bone chips from his ankle, which meant more time in a cast and more moments missed as a coach.
“It was hard,” he said. “I had to take a break from basketball after having coached 14 years.”
But it wasn’t time wasted.
The time away gave Callaway space to realize how much he missed being in the basketball gym. After the time off, he was able to pick track up, and then softball a little later. But he said he was itching to get back on the court.
“I got AP certified in Psychology and got my gifted endorsement as a teacher,” he said. “That’s what I focused on while waiting to get back on the hardwood.”
He started coaching hoops at Pulaski Heights Middle School in Arkansas back in 1997. His first stop in Georgia was at Bear Creek Middle in Fairburn where he said one of his players was current Kansas City safety and cancer survivor Eric Berry.
He moved on to coach at Taylor Street Middle in Griffin and then served as ninth grade boys coach and assistant head coach at Riverdale before landing at Lovejoy.
“It was at Riverdale where I was able to fine tune my coaching skills while serving with Derick Powell and Jerod Davis,” he said.
And now that his body feels more healed than it has in a while, Callaway said it’s time to dust off those basketball coaching chops and build on what he’s learned.
“I decided that my body was finally ready, and I was ready to be a head coach for a high school right in my community,” Callaway said. “I live in Jonesboro, and the school wanted someone that would coach with great leadership and class. I’m the kind of coach that’s going to stress academic excellence in order to have a chance to be successful on the court.”
Callaway said he wants to bring an exciting, quick and aggressive style of hoops to Mundy’s Mill — a program that finished the 2015-16 season with a 19-11 record overall, including a 12-6 mark in a tough Region 4-AAAAA that featured McIntosh, Morrow and Drew.
“We’re going to employ a physical man-to-man defense and a motion offense using scrappy players,” he said. “We want to play at a fast paced tempo and we want to utilize our size.”
That’s the recipe for success Callaway and company are going to be working on during a stint of 26 summer games at Clayton State and a heavy dose of strength training and conditioning. And so far Callaway thinks his squad’s effort is reflecting their coach’s excitement.
“We’re working extremely hard for next season,” he said. “And as I approach my 20th year working with kids, I have never been happier.”