‘A dream come true’

Published 7:41 pm Thursday, December 26, 2013

Stagg returns to Apprentice School to help ladies build basketball team

The Apprentice School brought a former local presence home to head up its women’s basketball team this season, and the Lady Builders are 7-3 after completing the 2013 portion of their schedule.

“We’ve had a pretty good start to the season,” said first-time college head coach Keith Stagg of Suffolk.

Keith Stagg of Suffolk guides the currently 7-3 Apprentice School women’s basketball team during a home game earlier this season.

Keith Stagg of Suffolk guides the currently 7-3 Apprentice School women’s basketball team during a home game earlier this season.

He deflected the credit to returning players, including senior forward Courtney Collins, who leads the team in scoring with 17.4 points per game, junior guard Shanae Hilliard, senior forward April McCoy, senior guard Brittanie Herriott and sophomore guard Kenya Wilkerson.

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They accepted Stagg’s coaching, accepted the responsibilities he put on them and embraced his style of play.

“It’s played a big part in the success that we’ve had so far,” he said.

Stagg isn’t the only Lady Builders coach with ties to Suffolk.

Men’s basketball coach Franklin Chatman knew Chatman from Suffolk and helped connect the new man to his new job.

Stagg, who at the time was coaching in West Virginia, said he thought, “Getting the chance to come back home and be a head coach would be great.”

He was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to Suffolk when he was 5, coming up through Suffolk schools.

“I went to Suffolk High for one year, and then I finished up at Nansemond River,” Stagg said. He played for the Warriors and coach Spencer Mayfield. “I was actually on the 1992 state championship team.”

He played for Delaware State University and later graduated with a Bachelor of Science in physical education.

His coaching days, he said, started in 1999, “and I’ve kind of just been going ever since.”

His first opportunity came at Phoebus High School. He coached the girls’ team for two years, then the boys’ team for two years.

Stagg moved to Delaware in 2004 and began coaching Amateur Athletic Union basketball. His team had some elite players, and it gave him the chance to see how the recruiting process proceeded at the top college level.

“It really intrigued me,” he said. “I thought about what it would be like to coach at that level, what it would be like to recruit at that level, so I asked a lot of questions.”

The more questions he asked, the more interested he became, and he began to think, “Hey, maybe I can coach at the college level,” he said.

He got his opportunity in 2011 when he became an assistant coach at West Virginia Wesleyan College, an NCAA Division II school.

He had served there for two years when The Apprentice School position became open.

He’s excited to work at the collegiate level.

“The opportunity that the student-athletes get there, I thought it was just valuable, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

He also liked what moving back to Suffolk meant for his family. It would give his 15-year-old son a chance to establish himself at King’s Fork High School, and Bulldog basketball fans already know well the name of sophomore Keith Stagg Jr.

“It was definitely a dream come true,” he said. He realized all the years he had put in, all the work he had done to develop his philosophy of coaching, “This is what that was preparing me for, this position right now.”

He has been surprised by how quickly the season has gone, and said the biggest challenge has been “just managing it all.” Not only must he develop a relationship with the players, but he must also develop the program.

Stagg has been impressed by how his players handle their workload.

“What we’re trying to do here is build future leaders for the business,” he said.

“For me, it’s just empowering these young women to do great things.”

Recruiting women who will fit the mold, while managing the present team, is a difficult job.

“But I tell you, I love it,” Stagg said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”