By Randy Whetstone Jr.
Anthony Wales was in middle school when he first met Fern Creek head coach James Schooler. Schooler would train him and his teammates as sixth graders, planting the seeds for them to blossom one day on the high school team.
During Wales’s middle school days, the connection grew between the two, and it was the winsome and magnetic personality of Schooler that began to have a major impact on Wales and his decision regarding high school.
“I trusted Coach Schooler based on what he had planned for us and what he wanted us to do, which was to win the regional and go to state,” says Wales. “I felt as though it would be the best fit for me to go to Fern Creek. I like the style that Coach Schooler wants us to play, so I thought it was a good fit for me.”
Schooler’s ability to motivate coupled with his indiscriminate attitude towards players based on talent made him “a great coach to have and to play for” in Wales’s eyes. But there was one incentive that Wales couldn’t turn down. Schooler must have tapped into his inner Godfather and made him an offer that he could not refuse as a middle school student – the keys to the team.
“By him having me come to Fern Creek, the relationship kept growing between us. Ever since he said he’d give me the keys to this team, we kept getting tighter and tighter,” Wales adds.
Now as a senior, he has used the keys to ignite the Tigers, and has driven this program to unprecedented levels of success during his high school tenure.
“It’s your responsibility to coach the entire team, but anytime you have a player with his abilities and the opportunity to play at the next level, you also have to coach players individually to help them reach their individual goals and abilities,” says Schooler. “I think it has been a great challenge and a test for me to be able to help develop him as an individual but also as a leader of a team.”
The Samford commit has emerged as one of the top players in the state of Kentucky, but he owes much credit to the relationship that has been cultivated with Coach Schooler over the years and the impact he has had both on and off the court.
On the hardwood, Schooler has challenged Wales in controlling his tempo as a point guard. As the coach on the court, it took growing pains for Wales to understand and embrace his role, but now that he is a veteran looking back in hindsight, he understands what it means to control the tempo.
Off the court, he has sought to control the tempos of life by implementing the life lessons Coach Schooler has taught him.
“He’s taught me how to be a man and how to be more professional,” says Wales. “‘The first impression is everything’ is something he preaches a lot, so I strive to do that every day, and to recognize that basketball is a business and it isn’t anything personal; it is just a business.”
When thinking about what impresses Schooler the most about his senior guard, he says, “His maturity and his understanding that it is a process in order to have a productive senior year and an opportunity to be able to play at the next level. I have been extremely impressed with his resolve off the court, to handle his academics, to put in extra work, but still be able to be a normal kid as well.”
The coach-player relationship in basketball has always been sacred in the athletic realm. The lessons players take away from coaches and the mark players leave that enable coaches to look within themselves is all established through the bouncing of a ball. But even when the ball stops bouncing for Wales, Schooler says it will be the beginning of a new chapter between the two as the years progress.
“Much like a lot of the organizations that I run, it is bigger than basketball,” Schooler adds. “We are family off the court, regardless if he was playing or not, or if he was going to college to be a regular student, we would still have a strong relationship. What I try to teach my players is the business of basketball, so even when the ball stops bouncing for Anthony, I am sure there will be things we do in the community together. That is one of the great things about our organization: It goes beyond the ball bouncing.” VT