May 16, 2013
Tennessee guards Brandon Lopez and Galen Campbell have stayed busy since the Volunteers' hoops season ended in March. The Knoxville natives spent the past several weeks coaching a boy's U13 team in a local Knox Youth Sports league.
Lopez, a rising junior who graduated from Knoxville's Austin-East High School, appeared in a career-high 17 games for the Vols last season. Campbell was a freshman in 2011-12 but spent last season exclusively as a practice player. The local product from Fulton High School rejoins UT active roster as a sophomore next season.
Their "Wolves" team was composed of students from Webb, Bearden and West Valley middle schools. The team competed in weekend tournaments in and around the East Tennessee area.
"I really enjoyed coaching these kids," Lopez said. "It has been a great experience to be able to have fun with these kids and give back."
"I had a great time," Campbell added. "I just have a love for the game. It has been fun because you get to take a step back and think about the mental aspect of the game. It's great to see the players listen to you and then develop over the course of a few practices and games."
The coaching pair relied heavily on their playing experience at Tennessee. They cited their status as UT student-athletes as a major aid in coaching youth.
"I think it helped us being Tennessee student-athletes," Lopez said. "The kids respected us more. We were tough on them, but they all responded really well."
"It made it easier for the kids to relate to us and trust in what we were doing," Campbell said. "Brandon and I are still playing basketball, so we were able to teach them a lot of the stuff we're learning right now. We were able to show them some drills and teach them some development skills that are important."
"I think the parents really enjoyed having us as coaches, too. Most of them know us from playing high school ball in the Knoxville area, and the rest know us as Tennessee basketball players. The parents knew we could relate to their kids, and I think that made for a more enjoyable experience."
The Vols duo was only able to hold practice once a week due to their UT class and workout schedules, so they had to make the most of each opportunity to mentor their team. However, even with limited practices, Lopez and Campbell still managed to install some game plans and channel their own versions of Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin.
"As for a coaching style, we tried to run as much as we could, and we definitely worked the high-low game on offense," Campbell said. "We put on a full-court press, too. However, we definitely made adjustments depending on the type of team we played."
Early on, Lopez and Campbell went through some growing pains as rookie coaches. The Wolves finished their first weekend tournament losing three straight games. However, they were able to turn it around last weekend in Oakdale, Tenn., and win their first tournament championship of the season.
"In our last tournament, we played a team that had beaten us by 20 or 30 points," Lopez said. "We had to play that same team again for the championship last weekend. All the kids were a little down about having to play them again. Some of them thought we were going to lose, but Galen and I told the kids that we could win. We just needed to have a good game. We ended up winning the championship game by seven or eight points. So it was nice to see the improvement the kids had made since the beginning of the season."
Campbell hopes his first foray into coaching will be the first step in a rewarding journey.
"I want to pursue a career in coaching basketball, so this has given me some great experience to go toward that goal," Campbell said.
And amongst all the positive aspects of the experience for Lopez, the most rewarding part had nothing to do with the team's won-lost record.
"The main thing I was happiest about was not winning games, but that all seven of our kids who tried out for the West Valley Middle School team made the team," Lopez said. "I was really happy to see them achieve that goal."