The intimate moments off the court, those late nights driving back from a game or the nights they would have spent staying up late drinking together are now the hardest parts for Lauren Best and Ron Kelley.
On the court, it actually seems kind of easy. The biggest problem is the immense pressure they each feel as they try to fill the void Apache Paschall has left behind.
The iconic girls basketball coach died earlier this month at the age of 38 of a heart attack while he was undergoing radiation treatment for skin cancer. Now his assistant coaches have taken over his Nazareth team as co-coaches and are trying to live up to lofty expectations.
“I would hate for us not to reach our mission this year and it would be because of us,” Kelley said. “I truly believe that if he was here today he would lead these girls to a championship and we are under a lot of pressure not to let him down.
“It's a rough situation.”
Both coaches say that he has left them with the tools to live up to his legacy. The important thing for them is to put aside their egos and just to try to be themselves. They might also want to up their cell phone plans.
“I never imagined the number of phone calls he took, the stuff he had to do…” Kelley said trailing off as he shook his head. “The girls are always calling. It's not just them either; it’s everybody, parents, coaches, everybody and everybody. We’re talking people across the country.”
Best added, “The call volume must have increased by at least 80 percent.”
All joking aside though, the system that Paschall put in place is the same system that they will continue to use. It was almost like a three-coach system before he left and now it is simply a two-coach system.
“Fortunately we have been working together for a while now and we know each other and what our specific talents are,” Kelley said. “The important thing is putting our egos aside when we need to. We had that same challenge when Apache was here too so it’s nothing new.”
Neither coach wants to change too much of what has made them successful in the past even though sometimes it might be hard to do.
“It's a balance of being yourself and trying to fill his void,” Best said.
“It's hard,” Kelley added. “I’m trying to stay myself, but I'm kind of forced to change too. So many times I find myself asking, 'what would he say right now,' or, 'what would he do in this situation?'”
The biggest obstacle they face is trying to get the girls caught up. Best described the team as in “preseason mode” because they have played in so few games due to Paschall’s illness and his death. That has affected team in terms of being able to gain each other’s trust and mesh.
The Lady Kingsmen are going to make up for that soon though as they play four games in the next five days. Friday they play St. Francis Prep and then they play back-to-back non-league games on Saturday and Sunday before facing a tough league rival in Bishop Ford on Tuesday.
It’s a good thing this stretch is coming up because Best did not like what she saw out of the team on Saturday when Nazareth lost to Riverdale Baptist (Md.) 83-47 in its first game since Paschall’s funeral.
“You can see it in the kids’ faces, mentally they are not there yet,” Best said. “We’ve got to get them there though. They’ve been through a lot, but it’s up to us to fill that void. It’s our responsibility to them and their families that we not let them down.”