COLUMBUS: During a tumultuous 2011-12 season full of bickering and struggles on and off the court, St. Vincent-St. Mary basketball coach Dru Joyce II reached the point that he had to ask himself why he was doing what he was doing.
Last year’s team didn’t make it out of the regional tournament, in large part because of an injury to Nick Wells that kept him sidelined. But Joyce says that wasn’t the major problem. To him, it was too many guys asking about themselves and not what’s best for the Irish. Or more precisely, as Joyce said, too many parents asking about their sons. All of it created a “What’s in it for me?” attitude not conducive to the hard-work, effort-based atmosphere Joyce had built.
“It was about the parents,” he said. “The parents didn’t want them to be that role kind of player. It created a lot of issues in my life that I would’ve loved to have gone without. ... Last year’s team, not all members, but there were things that happened that, with that group, made me question, ‘Why do you do this?’?”
Joyce isn’t coming away from this season with a state title; the Irish fell to Columbus Bishop Watterson 55-52 on Saturday. But even without the target he wanted, he’s walking away with a rediscovered love of coaching, thanks to this group of players and parents, that had run dry.
After the game Saturday, he first took time to thank his players and the families around the basketball program. For the ride through the state tournament after a rough start, for the support that followed and for reminding him why he does what he does every day.
“I shared with these guys that they have rejuvenated me,” Joyce said. “They’ve helped me regain my purpose. They’ve helped me to understand and to find joy in this. Because this is a labor of love and these two guys [junior Jalen Hudson and Wells, sitting next to him] are a part of the group that I love so dearly because they’ve helped me move forward from a bad time in coaching.”
The Irish had a good deal of turnover between last season and this one. Five players, including three who received solid playing time last year, transferred out of the program to local schools. In came freshman VJ King, Hudson and a few others. And the right team attitude and family support followed. It’s one of the things that allowed St. V-M to recover from a 2-5 and then 9-9 start to the season and make it all the way to the state final.
“Me and this group, from the parents all the way to the players, it’s just been great,” Joyce said. “They’ve supported us. When we were 2-5, 9-9, no one was ranting and raving about why their little Johnny wasn’t playing. They supported me and believed in what we were trying to do.”
It is also, perhaps, why Joyce took Saturday’s loss so hard. After the game, he blamed only himself and said how hard it is to walk to a news conference knowing “your decisions are the reason for these guys’ anguish.”
He found a renewed passion for coaching, for mentoring young people, during the season and took defeat at the end of it that much harder. Hudson, with only a year in the program, said he loved Joyce, that he had become more than a coach but also a father figure.
Joyce surely never completely lost sight of what he was doing, leading the Irish basketball program. But it doesn’t hurt that the right group of players, and their support systems, pushed him back onto the right path.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at https://ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.