A face familiar to the Crossville basketball family will be back on the sidelines for the Lions next season, after former varsity girls coach Jay Shankles was announced as the new varsity boys head coach last week by the DeKalb County School Board of Education.
Shankles spent two seasons as the girls varsity coach from 2017-19, and is excited to be back in a place that feels like home.
“I’m super excited,” Shankles said of the opportunity. “I was there several years ago and had the chance to get to know the people of Crossville, I really like the place and really enjoy being around the people of Crossville, so I’m excited to get back and try to restore some of the history of the program. My high school basketball coach was a legend there, and I’m excited to get to go back and work at the same place he worked.”
Prior to his first stint in Crossville, Shankles was the girls varsity coach at Albertville for six seasons, a run which included county championships before getting out of coaching for two years to spend more time with family. After the two years at Crossville, Shankles coached the last two years at the middle school level, first at Douglas and then his past season at Challenger Middle School in Huntsville. The chance to return to Crossville brings him closer to home, where his son will be a senior at Albertville this coming school year.
“When I left I took a job at Douglas Middle School to try and spend more time with my family and kids, but that didn’t work out,” Shankles said. “And then I ended up in Huntsville and Challenger Middle School this season, so getting closer to home and being able to get to campus with a 15-minute drive instead of a 55-minute drive, it makes it easier to see my kids’ activities and be a part of their lives, while being in control of my own program.”
Shankles takes over a basketball program that has struggled in recent seasons, going 5-17 last season with no area wins. But seeing an athletic department on the upswing following the run by the boys soccer team this spring, and seeing the big numbers that came out for football as well, he hopes to carry that momentum onto the basketball court where any players interested in the game are encouraged to come see what he and the other coaches are offering.
“I think we just have to go in and mend fences, hopefully we can recruit some of the kids that have stepped away but are still in our hallways to get them back out, just let them know we’re there for them,” Shankles said prior to getting to meet the players on Tuesday night. “Without being there and being in the hallways every day, I don’t know what we’ll have, but we’re supposed to meet Tuesday night and I hope that as many as we can get there will show up. Even if they only played as a seventh-grader, we want them to show up, and we’ll take it from there.”
On the court, Shankles aims to get the team back to fundamentals and playing with the strengths the athletes have, while also aiming to be flexible in their playing style depending on the opponent.
“We want to be the most fundamentally sound team on the floor every night,” he said. “I haven’t met the kids yet so I can’t say if we’re going to play super fast and shoot 50 3s or we’re going to walk it up and pound it inside. We’re going to play as fast as we can to have fun, but as slow as we need to, to be competitive. I hope we’re a little bit of multiple as well. We want to be able to do both, so we can do the opposite of what our opponent is sometimes, if that’s what we need to be able to do.”
The switch from varsity girls to varsity boys is one Shankles embraces, noting that the game isn’t much different no matter who he’s coaching, but that the familiarity he has in Crossville will hopefully help he and the team hit the ground running this summer.
“Basketball is basketball,” Shankles said. “The fundamentals are a lot of the same teaching girls and guys; for me it’s going to be a lot of the same stuff, simply because we’re going to stress the fundamentals of the game. And after being there several years I kind of understand how it works, and know the area and the surroundings, but I’m just excited to get back and be a part of the Crossville community.”