Jo Jo English heading to Sumter High

mchristopher@theitem.comApril 2, 2013 

— For his entire life, Jo Jo English has simply asked for a chance.

Whether it was leading Lower Richland to a state title, being a go-to player at the University of South Carolina or fighting for a roster spot with the National Basketball Association's Chicago Bulls, all English ever wanted was a chance to prove what he could do.

It's a sentiment that still rings true now as he prepares for the next big challenge of his career.

English has been tabbed as the next head coach for the Sumter High School varsity boys basketball team. The offer is still pending, however, until English signs a contract of employment with the school for next year — something that won’t be able to take place until after spring break, SHS principal Sterling Harris said.

English would become the Gamecocks' third coach in the last four years after former coach Sam Fuller resigned this past season after two years at the helm. Fuller led SHS to an 18-11 record and an apperance in the 4A lower state championship game this past year.

“To me, Sumter is an unbelievable opportunity for me to be successful and to be around what I consider family,” English said of the chance to coach at the 4A level. “... I’m looking forward to the opportunity and I appreciate the offer Sumter Schools has made to me. I’m really excited to get things started."

English, who was also offered the same position at Scott’s Branch High School, was one of three finalists from a pool of about 50 people along with current Lower Richland head coach Willie Thomas and Irmo High School junior varsity head coach Nick Agnello.

“We wanted to get someone who could be there for a while and not be looking at other jobs as a destination job, but Sumter as the destination," Harris said.

English's limited head coaching experience — confined to just a few games leading the Scott's Branch girls squad in 2012 after head coach Ruth Coard was killed in an automobile accident — was not a concern, Harris said. His 20-plus years of basketball background and the depth of knowledge English had about the sport more than satisfied Harris during the interview process.

“I’m very happy with the decision," Harris said. "He’s got maturity and youth on his side. He's got a chance to be around for a long while and really build something here."

After his stint playing professional basketball, English spent some time at Eau Claire High School as the varsity assistant and defensive coordinator for John Butler. He also worked at Lower Richland and was a junior varsity coach and head varsity assistant.

In 2011, he came to Scott's Branch where he worked as a varsity girls assistant under Coard. It was there that English's approach to coaching changed forever, he said. Coard's death refocused what was really important in life and on the basketball court, he said.

“I told myself if I ever got the opportunity to be a head basketball coach, I would never approach it where a kid's ability is paramount to what’s important in life,” he said. “I want to make (my players) productive and positive citizens in our society and the Lord has blessed me with that opportunity.”

Character and intergrity were two of the main things English stressed in his interview, he said, along with his diverse knowledge of the game.

“You’ve got coaches who can go into the computer, look at drills and then tell his team to go do them," English said. "I’ve actually done it. There aren’t too many drills or plays or sets or anything or positions on the court that I haven’t played in my basketball career. I have a better understanding of how to teach it and how to connect with young people in that regard."

English said he has always had a knack for facilitating instructions on the court. He was in charge of getting scouting reports for the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team under former head coach Susan Walvius and preparing the team for practice and games in the early 2000's.

And despite his limited head coaching experience, English is looking forward to the opportunity to coach and show Sumter what he is capable of doing, he said.

“I feel that I’m just as good as any other coach out there, and I can prove it," he said. "And I will prove it."

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