BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — When Eastern put out notice that it needed a new girls basketball coach, the school found the right candidate in its own backyard.
Lapel boys basketball assistant Justin Coomer stood out among the applicants, and was already familiar with the team. He’s lived in Greentown since 2010, having moved there with his wife, who is a Greentown native.
“Greentown is a great small-town community kind of like where I’m from,” said Coomer. “[Eastern has] really nice kids and me living in the area I thought it’d be a good chance for me to be a head coach.
“I feel like I’ve paid my dues and my time being under a future Hall of Fame coach like coach [Jimmy] Howell. I felt like I’d learned quite a bit and maybe it’d be a good time to try it on my own.”
Eastern athletic director Brad Wilson agreed. Coomer, a 2001 Lapel graduate, has been an assistant with the Bulldogs for 11 seasons, the last nine under Howell. Coomer was on Howell’s staff for the 2004-05 Bulldog squad that won the Class 2 state title. Wilson said Coomer’s experience stood out.
“He’s been around basketball for the last nine years under one of the state’s best basketball coaches,” Wilson said. “I think Jimmy Howell is as knowledgeable in the game of basketball as anybody I’ve ever been around. To be under him for nine years, you’ve got to know something about basketball to stay with Jimmy.
“I think we were very fortunate to have somebody with his knowledge of the game. We didn’t have that many people apply. I thought we’d have more people apply than we did. Of all the candidates that we interviewed, he was far and away above the people we talked to. Finding coaches is getting harder, and I feel like we got very lucky. We got a very good one.”
It was a bonus that Coomer lived in the district and had already watched a lot of the Eastern squad’s games, including the Comets’ run to the Class 2A state final game.
“I was familiar with quite a few of the players,” Coomer said. “Even coaching at Lapel, I’d assume that me and my wife went to at least half the Eastern games last year, and obviously through the tournament, so I was pretty familiar. I saw every game of the tournament.”
Coomer has a style of play in mind though he doesn’t know that he can implement it immediately.
“I’d like to play a more uptempo style, pressure-style of defense,” Coomer said. “I’m not sure that we’ll be able to do that from the start, but that’s my goal. Half the kids we have are freshmen, so they’re still learning what they need to be doing.”
The new coach is grateful to Wilson, superintendent Tracy Caddell and principal Keith Richie for the chance to be a head coach. This was the first year he’d looked for an opening.
“[I’m] extremely excited,” he said. “I’d like to thank Dr. Caddell and Mr. Wilson, Dr. Richie for giving me the chance to have a head coaching job in Indiana. I feel blessed to have one and feel really excited to get going.”
Coomer replaces Jeremy Dexter, who went 75-35 in five seasons leading Eastern’s girls program. The Comets went 22-4 in the 2012-13 campaign, falling 62-42 to Evansville Mater Dei in the IHSAA Class 2A championship game. Dexter announced following the school year that he had accepted the athletic director’s position at Churubusco High School.