Jamestown coaching staff striking right chords with tight-knit Eagles

— Soon after Donovan Bridgeforth accepted the Jamestown High boys basketball head coaching job in the summer of 2015, the 2006 Lafayette High graduate walked into to the barbershop and the first person he saw was George Piggott Jr.

Bridgeforth believed the encounter was a sign.

"Once I heard he got the job, I already knew if he asked me to help him, I'm going to help him," said Piggott Jr., a 2001 Lafayette graduate and the school's all-time leading scorer. "Because I knew we were going to be on the same page on everything."

Bridgeforth and Piggott Jr. comprise the "new school" half of Jamestown's coaching staff, which also features "old school" representatives George Piggott Sr. and James City County Administrator Bryan Hill.

Together, the coaching staff has meshed, helping teach the Eagles (25-2) how to win and guiding them this season to Bay Rivers District, Conference 18 and Group 4A East championships. On Friday in Salem, Jamestown will take on Roanoke's William Fleming High in the state quarterfinals. The winner will advance to the state semifinals the following day, and the 4A final is slated for March 10 at VCU.

If the Eagles make it to the title game, Piggott Jr. will not be the least bit surprised. The Jamestown junior varsity head coach led several members of the Eagles' senior class as freshmen on a successful JV squad. That JV group included twin brothers Evan and Mason Wang, Ryan Jones and Ryan Devine – Michael Schmidt played varsity as a freshman, and Diamante Brown hadn't yet transferred in. Piggott Jr. knew the players had developed chemistry together at Hornsby Middle and told them if they stayed together, they could play for a state championship before they left Jamestown.

Yet, the Eagles ascent to the top of the Bay Rivers for the first time in 10 years didn't come without some adversity. Jamestown was winless in the fall league preceding last season, when the Eagles were eliminated from the Group 4A East Region tournament by eventual state runner-up Lake Taylor.

From the 2015 fall league to the unbeaten district campaign this season, Bridgeforth has embraced the role of underdog, all the while instilling in his players that they were good enough to contend for state championships.

Bridgeforth preached family values to his players and trust, something he sought to have reflected in his coaching staff. He wanted coaches that had his back and the end result was a staff Hill thinks may be one of the most experienced in the state.

Piggott Sr. coached both his son and Bridgeforth as an assistant at Lafayette, where he graduated in 1976 before joining the Army. And Hill played point guard for Alfred University in New York and has coached in some capacity ever since, starting as a JV coach after playing his final college game in 1989.

"We all have different talents, different ways of doing things," Hill said. "I tend to be more calm… Mr. Piggott does a good job of controlling the atmosphere and emotions. George Jr. and I – we sit there and strategize. We like to see how folks are playing."

Jamestown is known for excelling in the third quarter, after the coaches have had time to make halftime adjustments. In their 65-56 region final win over rival Smithfield Friday, the Eagles pulled away in the third quarter, just as they did in a 12-point regular-season win at Smithfield.

There is also a good cop, bad cop element. Visit a Jamestown practice or take in a game, and there is no doubt who the head coach is. Bridgeforth is animated, normally pacing the sidelines and on occasion, will throw his hands in the air to ask for more from the crowd.

"He likes to stay intense during the games, so the assistant coaches really help just calm us down throughout the game and help us control the tempo," Jones said. "They focus on the little things. They're a really good help. We love having them."

"He jumps in with us and practices when we scrimmage," Brown said of Bridgeforth. "Sometimes we run out on the track and he comes to run with us. Coach Bridgeforth is more vocal. All the other coaches are more quiet, but they connect with us, too."

Hill likes to keep a watchful eye on Jones and Evan Wang, who alternate time at the one-guard, although Hill initially began coaching the Eagles' big men after Bridgeforth asked him to join the staff.

Hill's job keeps him from making Tuesday games as well as some of the Jamestown practices. After Monday's practice, in which he coached wearing a tie, it was back to work on the county budget.

"Part of my contract is community service," Hill said. "To me, this is community service. I love these kids."

Old school doctrine may sometimes call for methods like suicide running drills, but Hill said Bridgeforth isn't as quick to go that route. He understands how to get in his players' heads. "He's actually made us just talk to them, as opposed to just trying to coach them," Hill said.

Old school still goes a long way, though, and Bridgeforth still calls Piggott Sr. "Coach."

Piggott Jr. said he learned defense and fundamentals from his father, who coached him all the way from rec league as a 5-year-old to star basketball and football player at Lafayette. Piggott Jr., a mellower version of his dad, played football at Grambling State.

Football, too, was the specialty of Piggott Sr, who played semi-professionally for four years and tried out for the Washington Redskins and USFL teams.

"Coach Piggott is very intense," Bridgeforth said. "I don't understand how he still has that much passion for the game."

Following Monday afternoon's practice, Piggott Sr. used the same words about the coaching staff his son would use several hours later in a phone interview. "We're always on the same page," he said.

"If you get players that buy into what you're trying to show them, and show them that they can be winners, they want it," Piggott Sr. said. "They get hungry for it. That's what our program is. It's really about the kids. It's not about us."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
79°