by Settle Monroe
photographs by Robert Willett
Around these parts, basketball is serious business. As November arrives, a charged wave of excitement runs through our state that lasts through March Madness. Tides shift as alliances are formed and enemy lines are drawn. Weeknights are spent glued to the television, and mornings are spent perusing the sports page to learn late game results. It is no secret that North Carolinians, particularly Raleighites, feel great pride for their hoops.
But basketball pride is not limited to highly publicized teams or games. Walk into any of one of Raleigh’s public gymnasiums during the season and take a quick look at the boisterous fans, the demonstrative referees, and the enthusiastic players diving for loose balls: It is immediately clear that passion for the sport starts young.
Each year the City of Raleigh, through its Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources department, registers hundreds of boys and girls eager to play on one of the league’s numerous basketball teams. Each team is led by a pair of volunteer coaches. This season, two of these coaches, Carr McLamb and Henry Neese, will embark on their 10th year coaching boys’ basketball (ages 13-15) for the league.
The longtime friends met in 2001 when Neese played for McLamb, then a student at N.C. State in his first year of coaching. Years later, in 2007, they ran into each other at a N.C. State football game and agreed to return to the court, this time to coach together. McLamb took the helm as the head coach, and Neese served as the assistant. It was the beginning of what has become a City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources coaching establishment.
For McLamb and Neese, coaching middle school boys is about more than teaching basketball skills. Both men well understand their positions as positive role models for their players. At the first practice of the season, McLamb and Neese explain their three guiding principles: One, have fun; two, improve as an individual; three, improve as a team. They also work tirelessly to instill in their players a sense of accountability and responsibility, insisting that each player show up on time prepared for practices and games. If a player has to miss a practice or game, he must call in advance to let them know. Coach McLamb is unwavering: “We want to hear from the players, not their parents, if they have to miss. They all have cell phones. So they have no excuses. We expect for each player to come to practice ready to give it all he’s got. Our team depends on it.”
While basketball is serious business, for McLamb and Neese, having fun is the main priority. McLamb says, “We’ve had teams that have won championships, and we’ve had teams that really struggled. But we have never had a team that didn’t have fun.”
Kirkland Caison, now a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, knows this well. Caison played for McLamb and Neese for two years in middle school and still keeps in touch with them today. “The real impact they have had is off the court,” Caison says. “Whether it be college applications or job inquiries, I have come to them many times seeking advice. They are great older brother figures, able to share honestly about their life experiences and offer suggestions to different problems I have dealt with.”
At the same time, McLamb and Neese make no bones about it – they want to win basketball games, and they are strategic in their efforts. They spend nights in the gym watching other teams play to develop scouting reports. They have mastered the art of the pre-season draft. And they can recite statistics and figures from every team they’ve coached. With two practices and a game each week, coaching is a major commitment for these two Raleigh lawyers. When asked how many hours a week they spend on coaching, Neese laughs, “That depends. If you count all of the conversations we have during the week about the team, it really adds up.”
McLamb and Neese both point to George Deloache, their former coach at the Jaycee Center, as their coaching inspiration. McLamb explains, “Most of what we do, we learned from George. We run the same sets he taught us as young players. He was such an important figure for us during our youth. We hope to be the same for our players.” Deloache, a longtime City of Raleigh coach and a legend in his own right, understands the deep impact that coaches can have on their players. “Middle-school-aged guys in particular are still trying to figure everything out,” he says. “For example, where does being competitive cross the line into bad sportsmanship? So, they are looking for role models.”
So far, McLamb and Neese have won one city league championship, been the regular season champions twice, and made four semifinal appearances. And this coaching duo has no plans of hanging up its whistles anytime soon. “We’re not married. We don’t have kids. We have time to do it. And we love it. For the foreseeable future, we’ll be coaching.”