Helena Magazine

Sports Q&A: Coach Lake Graham talks HHS Girls’ Basketball

Published 3:23 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

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Coach Lake Graham, Helena High School Girls’ Basketball Coach, discusses his first year at Helena High School and his coaching philosophy.

With this being your first year here at Helena High School, can you share a bit about your coaching career so far? How has it prepared you moving forward in your role here at Helena?

This will be my 7th year as a coach, my first as a varsity head coach. The previous six years I was a part of the Vestavia Hills system, where I served as a middle school head coach for boys and girls for 4 years, and most recently as JV head coach and varsity assistant the last two. My time there was invaluable because it allowed me to see what it takes to create a successful, disciplined, and driven program. I am so grateful for my time with not only Coach Smelser and the staff there, but with the wonderful girls I got to coach and build relationships with. It was, and still is, a culture that I fully intend to replicate here at Helena, both in the play on the court and the relationships built.

How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

I believe in coaching kids to a standard. I set incredibly high expectations for my players in the effort and commitment it takes to be the absolute best we can be each and every day. I believe that only through the daily pursuit of excellence can we improve where we need to to perform our best as a team. This is a gradual process of learning and developing both the physical skills and the mental toughness required to meet the standard we set for ourselves. While this will certainly help players have the chance to become the best basketball players they can be, it also prepares them to be equipped to be just as successful when basketball is done. I believe in preparing my kids not just for our next opponent, but to be disciplined, hard working, and mentally tough people who will make a difference for good in their world.

What strategies do you employ to keep players motivated?

Basketball is at its best when it’s fun. We want to create a practice environment and a team culture where the girls WANT to be there every day. We encourage high energy practices with vocal encouragement, celebrations when things go well, and pick-me-ups when they don’t. We begin every practice with a daily positive where players are told how they are valued by their teammates for things other than their basketball skills, and end each practice with “props” where teammates compliment each other for their successes in our drills that day. This is all done so that every player knows that they are valued on this team. When you know you are valued, you are motivated to pursue your best that day.

What do you think are the most important qualities in a player?

Coachability, determination, and selflessness. Players must be open to being coached and guided to doing things a different way than they’ve done before. They must be determined in the face of adversity, and seek to overcome challenges both internal and external. And they must be a team first minded player, seeking to be the best team mate they can be. A player with those qualities will always have a spot on our team.

What are your short-term and long-term goals for the team this year and moving forward?

Short term goals for this particular season will be to establish our culture and standard for what it means to be a Helena Girls Basketball player. To improve day after day within our system and to give ourselves the best chance we can to be competitive in our area and beyond. These girls have already done a fantastic job with this, and I am optimistic about our future this season. Long term goals will be to build our entire program, youth programs and middle school included, into a successful development program with the culture and standard that we have established as our backbone. And with that foundation to be a team that regularly competes for state championships.

What’s your stance on academic performance and its relation to the sport and the players? What are your expectations for player conduct on and off the court?

Our players are called Student-Athletes. The student comes first. The overwhelming majority of our players’ futures will be tied to their performance in the classroom, not the court. The values we teach in practice about hard work, discipline, and prioritization are expected to carry over into the classroom where they will be exemplary students in behavior and performance. As for our conduct, it has been stressed to our players that it absolutely means something to be a member of this team. They represent our team and our program with every action and choice that they make, and are expected to take that seriously. Any choices or actions that reflect poorly on our team, both on and off the court, will not be tolerated. We will always aim to represent ourselves with disciplined and respectful conduct.

What do you find most rewarding about coaching?

When I see a player who I know has bought in, worked their absolute hardest, sacrificed for our team, and been determined to improve, be rewarded for their efforts. Seeing them succeed because of the effort they have put into their craft is what this is all about. As a coach I believe it’s my job to facilitate those opportunities for my players so that they have the best chance to experience that feeling of reward for their hard work. I cannot wait to see it happen this year for our players.

How do you typically prepare, and have your players prepare, for big games or particularly tough opponents?

This is one aspect where I must once again express gratitude for my time at Vestavia and what I was able to learn. We will always prepare for each of our opponents with the diligence and respect they deserve. Preparation for what the opponent does will be just as responsible for our success as our execution of our game plan. However, we also must prepare to do what we do best, and be a team that must also be prepared for. Being sound in our execution of what we want to do both offensively and defensively will be crucial to our success.

What’s your message to the supporters and fans of Helena High’s girls’ basketball team?

Your support means the world to us and our program. We will prepare each and every day to be a team that this community will be proud of, and hope that you will continue to invest in our program. We want our basketball program as a whole, K-12, to do nothing but grow!

Looking forward to this season, what are you most optimistic about in the terms of the team this year? 

I am most optimistic simply about how high our team’s ceiling could be this year. As I’ve told the girls: it will not be easy and it will take unbelievably hard work, determination, and sacrifice. But if we pursue the excellence we are capable of this year, there is no limit to how successful we could be!