The image of his father’s twisted and bruised fingers remains with Harvey Adger.
“He had an auto repair shop, and he worked long hours,” Adger said. “And then on Sundays, people would come to the house and ask for his help: ‘Mister John, can you please come fix this?’ Of course, he’d go.”
Manual labor was not in Adger’s future, but there have been long hours of labor for the love of basketball at Glen Oaks High School.
The passion still burns for the 66-year-old who recently picked up his 800th career win, so much so that Adger, ever the stickler for detail, notes that he won’t acknowledge the feat just yet.
Two forfeit wins recently pushed Adger’s win total to 800, and a victory last Friday made his record 802-306, which includes four state titles. But for Adger, the 800th win came Friday night at Brusly. He’s still grinding, as always, for the next win.
The total ranks Adger among the state’s elite. Former Southern Lab coach Joel Hawkins is the leader with 1,081 victories.
Rosepine’s Danny Fletcher passed the 1,000-win barrier this season, and Peabody’s Charles Smith and St. Thomas More’s Danny Broussard have more than 900; they are the active leaders. Kenny Almond, who retired last fall from Zachary High with a record of 892-402, is next on the local list.
The fact that Adger has done all this at one school is remarkable.
“I think he’s a natural-born leader,” Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said. “He’s very intelligent, very disciplined. His philosophy and approach to the game are so exact. It’s been an honor to play against him and now to coach against him.
“And then there’s his approach to work. He’s missed one day of work in over 40 years. That’s stability. The dedication and commitment to excellence is not just something he brings to the program and the school; he brings that to each kid who plays for him.”
Another family business
Adger grew up as a middle child in a family with eight children in Shreveport. He attended Valencia High School, now Caddo Magnet. His parents not only stressed education, they wanted their children to become educators — and six of them did.
Trips to Shreveport to visit his 95-year-old mother, Carrie, and other siblings are not as frequent as he’d like.
“Harvey loved sports growing up, and basketball was his thing,” said Adger’s sister, Brenda. “He sees himself as an educator, and basketball is part of that. It’s his life. He’s not a person who’ll take vacations or do a lot of things for himself. He’s dedicated to Glen Oaks High School and to his teams.”
Adger played for coach Richard “Dick” Mack at Southern, priding himself on the details, such as playing defense and making free throws. When a knee injury sidelined Adger for his senior season of 1971-72, Mack asked he’d consider coaching the Jaguars freshman squad.
Remember the days when the NCAA didn’t allow freshman eligibility? Adger does.
“I was going to be a teacher, and I hadn’t really thought about coaching,” Adger recalled. “And I was so lucky: We had McKinley guys like Darrell Glasper and Willie Titus (the former McKinley coach). They made it easy. Coach Mack took me under his wing and taught me things I still use today.”
If you want an overnight success story, Adger’s not your man. He taught and coached for nine years before moving to Glen Oaks in 1981 as basketball coach.
Success did come more quickly than most realize. The Panthers made their first LHSAA Top 24 tourney in 1987.
People do remember the glory years of the mid-1990s. Teams led by Lester Earl, Cory Powell and Tony Cole. The group that won Class 4A titles in 1994 and 1995, along with a 5A title in 1996.
That was a golden era in Baton Rouge basketball. Adger and Hawkins of Southern Lab were at the forefront, along with Almond and others.
The Panthers played in-your-face defense and with relentless passion. There’s usually more to the story, and Madison Prep Academy coach Jeff Jones, a former GOHS player and assistant coach, knows it well because it’s his story.
“I was never a great player destined to have a long career,” Jones said. “I graduated and, after a semester at Southern, I joined the Army. The whole time I was gone, the one thing I kept thinking about was getting back. I had this newspaper clipping of Coach Adger with his head shaved as we won the title. I kept it with me the whole time.”
Jones eventually went back to Southern and convinced Adger to take him on as a student teacher, something “Coach” never did. First, he added Jones to his staff as a student assistant.
“There are things I learned from Coach Adger that I use every day,” Jones said. “He can be tough, and there are no shortcuts. If players weren’t willing to do what was required, like be disciplined and work hard, he’d let them go. At first, I didn’t understand that. I had to make a decision like that a few years ago. One year, we ended up with eight players. That may have cost us a state title. But it was the right thing to do.”
Photographs and memories
Adger pulls up a stool and sits down in the “Red Room.” It’s a place all Glen Oaks players know about and have seen; it used to be an office with a desk, and it’s located in the lobby of the GOHS gym.
Trophies that have spilled over from the trophy case are displayed here, along with poster-size photos of the Panthers’ Top 28 teams. It’s the photo illustration of all the banners hanging in the gym. So there’s no room for a desk any more.
Adger reaches to a bookcase and pulls out a plaque with a picture of one of his first teams from the 1980s. He rattles off names and talks about former players who stop by. He loves to hear about their successes and families.
“It’s always been about getting these kids to be a little bit better than they were yesterday,” Adger said. “It’s about the intangible things ... how to work hard and to be a good person. Trying to help somebody around you be better is a concept that’s always worked well for me. Whether they can go on to play college ball or not, it’s important for all kids to realize they can go on and be productive citizens.”
There is a sadness that goes with coaching at an inner-city school. Adger reminds his assistants, including Jones and current assistant Kenny Haynes, another ex-player, that you “can’t save all of them.”
Adger points to the photo of his last title team, the 2005 squad that won a 4A title with five guards.
“Of course, two of these young men are no longer with us,” Adger said. “What hurts so much is when you have to bury them at such a young age. They should be looking over my casket instead of me looking down into theirs. You’re talking about young men who really haven’t had much of a chance to live. Having to go to services like that and comfort their families is tough.”
The shooting death of 2005 star Ryan Francis, who had just completed his freshman year at Southern California in 2006, is one of those tragedies. One of those cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a Mother’s Day visit home still resonates.
So does the 2008 death of GOHS girls basketball star Shannon Veal, who collapsed and died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy during a playoff game in the gym just a few feet from where Adger was standing. There are photos of Veal and a list of her accomplishments, too.
The work ethic is legendary. Adger was rushed to the hospital the only day he missed school. He had hernia surgery that day and was back at work the next day.
Adger’s Glen Oaks teams have made 11 LHSAA tourney appearances, the more recent one in 2012 in Class 3A.
“The way I see it, I’ve got five more years,” Adger said. “I’d like to make one more run. Hopefully, the move back to attendance zones for athletic eligibility will help boost our numbers.”
He smiled as he watches a group of freshmen shoot free throws at the end of practice. The Panthers entered Friday’s game with Brusly at 17-11 overall and 6-6 in District 6-3A.
“We’ll have to let them grow and put a little more weight on them,” Adger said. “And get some other pieces around them.”
Though he’s a purist when it comes to validating the numbers, like 800 wins, Adger isn’t defined by them.
“None of this would be possible without all the players I’ve had,” he said. “They bought in and put in the time. For me, it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as Joel Hawkins, James Smith, Danny Broussard and Kenny Almond.
“I love to coach, and I’m doing what I love.”