Amory basketball coach Brian Pearson will have double the challenge next season as he takes over the role of girls’ head coach in addition to his duties as boys’ coach.
Pearson replaces Paula Wax, who stepped down in the spring to focus on her administration role, and he had been working as her assistant last season. He’s going into his fourth season as coach of the Panthers.
“I definitely think for me, it’s a learning experience, and it’s a great opportunity. Coach (Paula) Wax has really done some things over the past four, five years to make this job intriguing,” Pearson said. “The program is just in really good shape, and that’s a credit to her to start with to even make it something I would consider trying to do.”
While working as an assistant last season, Pearson said he was able to become familiar with the girls’ team.
“I knew that it’s a hard-working group from what I saw, and they have a lot of pieces coming back. I felt like they deserve someone who is really going to work them hard,” he said. “It was a long process. My first instinct was see if they could find somebody who wants to come here and wants to be here. I thought some things were going to happen that just didn’t, so it got back to the point where they asked me if I would be interested in it and it went from there.”
The Lady Panthers have made the playoffs in all four seasons under Wax, and Pearson credits the rise of both basketball programs as making it possible for him to handle both teams.
“It takes an interesting setup to where it will hopefully work, and there’s a lot of good support here, which goes back to what we’ve been able to build over the past few years,” Pearson said. “We’ve got people that are interested in basketball and willing to help out however they can, and that makes my job easier. I told the girls this the first day that I talked to them, that the X’s and O’s of basketball will be the easiest thing for me. It’s just adjusting to planning for two different groups and being fair to both and having as much energy for one as the other.”
Pearson isn’t the only coach in northeast Mississippi to handle both their girls’ and boys’ teams – he said he reached out to Booneville coach Michael Smith and Houston coach Chris Petit, in addition to former Amory coach Rob Browning, who coached both the Panthers and Lady Panthers while Pearson worked under him as an assistant.
“They had a lot of advice to give me and things to tell me that worked for them and what didn’t,” Pearson said. “I plan on talking to them more and figuring out how to balance the two and what shortcuts to take to help be able to be organized and do things.”
Nathan Newell will work under Pearson as an assistant for both teams, and Pearson said he’s excited about working hand-in-hand with him and about the way the players on both sides have responded.
“I was impressed with him just hopping right in and going to work,” Pearson said. “He will be my No. 2, right under me, trying to do it the same for both groups. At the end of the day, here at Amory on both sides, we have some good kids with good parents. They are ‘yes sir, no sir’ kind of boys and girls, and that helps. That makes it fun to show up and work every day.”
The Lady Panthers graduated three senior starters but have a good core coming back with playing experience.
“We have a big group of juniors to go along with Jhalia (Small), our senior who logged a bunch of minutes the past few years. I think we will get some stuff out of the sophomore class, and there’s a good group of freshmen coming up,” Pearson said. “It may be a little while before they can help us on the varsity side, but there’s some good pieces there to where I think for the next few years, we’re going to be competitive and have a chance to win some ballgames on both sides.”