Mickles: New coaches figure to make their marks again _lowres

Advocate staff photo by John Oubre --Last week Kenny Almond was named the Zachary boys basketball coach.

Gary Duhe coached against Kenny Almond throughout his career as a high school basketball coach.

Duhe, now the director of the Louisiana High School Coaches Association, counts Almond as a friend and colleague. There’s one other thing about the East Ascension High School coach Duhe always counts on.

“His players, school administrators, sportswriters and the other coaches, along with the officials, all know what they’re going to get from him,” Almond said. “He stands for his principles.”

Almond now is part of an elite group. He received the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches’ prestigious Louisiana Mr. Basketball Award at a ceremony Saturday night at the Embassy Suites.

I can easily hear Frank Sinatra singing a version of “My Way” any time I hear others accurately describe Almond. He can be confrontational and fiery. And he always stands up for what he believes in.

Those who don’t understand Almond’s competitive drive or how he motivates teams to excel and play above and beyond their capabilities should have a ring-side seat to watch him coach during a game or practice.

No one can argue with Almond’s accomplishments. He has a career record of 876-388, which ranks second among active coaches.

Almond won three state titles at Baton Rouge’s Woodlawn High School, the Class 4A title in 1999, along with 5A titles in 2002 and 2003. Almond also had runner-up finishes at Lee High in 1982 and at Woodlawn in 1993, 1998 and 2001. He’s taken EAHS to the 5A semifinals twice.

Is he a great X’s and O’s guy? Sure. Has the 67-year-old coach motivated players and held them accountable in his 37 seasons? Absolutely.

Lakeo Keller was one of Almond’s star players in the early 1990s. Most people remember him. Keller, who is now a successful business man, didn’t let those free throws in the state finals define his life.

“I have a 13-year-old son now and I find myself saying some of the same things coach Almond said to me when I talk to him,” Keller said. “Of course, I don’t use language that’s as colorful.

“He didn’t just teach us about basketball, he taught us about life, the importance of working hard and being part of a team.”

Passion and humility always come to mind when I think about Almond. That probably surprises some people who have seen Almond storm the sideline.

When I asked Almond about the LABC honor he called it humbling, noting that the past winners include many of Louisiana’s basketball legends, including ex-LSU coach Dale Brown and former Baton Rouge High and LSU star Bob Pettit.

Yes, Almond is very intense during the season. Talk to him in the postseason and you see the man who is proud of his players and their accomplishments. He sees himself as a teacher first.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to win it three times,” Almond said. “When it’s said and done, I enjoy seeing the smiles and happiness of the kids, their parents, teachers and the fans. That’s meant more to me than anything.”