GASTON, IND - For the last two years, Josh Burkett has been doing everything behind the scenes regarding basketball games. As Monroe Central’s athletic director, he made sure there were officials, helped fill the concession stands, and did everything else to make sure the game ran smoothly.
However, on Wednesday, Nov. 22, his position required one job. Coach the Wes-Del Warriors against Cambridge City Lincoln. After four quarters of basketball, the Warriors' new coach captured his first win after defeating the Eagles 62-51.
“In my opinion, coaching is like a separate job and there's a lot of elements that go into [the position],” Burkett said. “Fortunately, [athletic director] Mr. [Kye] Denney and his staff did a great job of taking care of all the athletic director's side of the job.”
During the months leading up to the season, the Warriors learned what their new head coach expected of them.
“[Burkett’s] big thing is playing fast and having a heavy defense,” senior Jack Rooker said. “That is going to win us more games.”
Yet it wasn’t just adjustments on the court that Burkett required from his players. Before and after their first game, players were dressed in dress pants and quarter zips. The coaching staff was decked out in suits and ties.
“That's how I was brought up and I don't know how to do it any other way,” Burkett said. “I have too much respect for the game and I just think that it's a good representation.”
He credited Michael Lewis, Ball State Men’s Basketball head coach, for influencing their style. During an interview, Lewis talked about why his coaching staff dresses up for every game. This is something that has stuck with Burkett.
“He said [something along the lines of] wanting to represent what a professional would look like for his players because he wants them to go out and be men that will be professional as well,” he said. “I want to do those things for our guys.”
Burkett’s first game with the Eagles started in favor of the black and maroon as the Warriors could not be stopped on offense. Whether it was layups or jump shots, Wes-Del could not miss. Even though the offensive success continued throughout the rest of the game, the Warriors could not stop fouling on defense.
“We just had to keep playing,” Wes-Del junior Josiah Love said. “...It was a dog fight.”
With defense being one of the driving forces for Burkett, the consistent sound of the officials’ whistles required the Warriors’ commander and chief to make some decisions.
“We just talked through it and [told them] they gotta step up,” Burkett said. “Playing with your head, keeping your hands off. You got to slide your feet, don't put your chest into them. We were trying to do those things, but we had to go deep in our bench.”
Even with more and more bench players taking the court, Burkett did not panic. Wes-Del’s roster has eight seniors, which Love thinks can give them an upper hand.
“We have more experience, which can help us get buckets,” Love said.
Speaking of buckets, Love led the way as he scored 19 points in Wes-Del’s first contest of the season. While the guard was the main scoring option for the team last season, multiple Warriors made plays to add to their total in their first win. Senior Jacob Grant finished with 12 points and Rooker had 11.
“[Love] is a great scorer,” Burkett said. “But when we have more weapons around him, teams aren't going to be able to just chase him around. We're gonna get easy shots with other guys.”
After receiving his first win, Burkett revived a tradition that the Warriors did when he was playing.
“It's really like a poem,” Burkett said. “Usually it's a senior or a captain or whoever is really excited that night. It's ‘down by the river, we started to drown, but we kept fighting, we wouldn't go down. One two three four five Wes-Del Warriors take no jives. Between that, the guys say hell yeah. ”
That first game was more than that to Burkett. When he looked at the crowd, he saw family and former alumni who sat in the same gym when he wore a Wes-Del jersey.
"I want [my players] to be able to experience that and have a fan base that's behind them,” he said. “I think [the crowd] liked what they saw. I had a lot of positive comments about our guys and how hard they work.”
So while his ultimate goal is to win and put the Warriors in the best position possible, he wants another thing. He wants the Warriors to be a family.
“I think [former Wes-Del head coach John McGlothin] did a pretty good job of that truthfully, even without being from there,” Burkett said. “I think that was a value of his and we had a great relationship when I coached with him.
“I always wanted the program to be successful. So I think we're gonna build off that momentum and I'll bring the tweak of being a graduate from Wes-Del.”
The Warriors will look for their second win when they face Alexandria Monroe on Saturday, Nov. 25. Tip-off is set for 7:30.
Contact Zach Carter with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X @ZachCarter85.