Coach Q&A: Valley Head girls basketball coach Jamie Vest

FORT PAYNE — Editor’s note: This is the seventh installment in a question-and-answer series with DeKalb County coaches, taking a look at their playing journeys and their coaching experiences. In Part 7, The Times-Journal interviewed 17-year Valley Head girls basketball coach Jamie Vest.

Q: How long have you been in coaching both as a head coach and as an assistant?

A: I started coaching in 1999. I just completed Year 21. I started at Ider and was there for four years before transferring to Valley Head in 2003.

Q: What led you to coaching?

A: I love sports. As a young girl, I pretty much lived at a ball field with my dad as he played softball. He also helped coach my sister’s high school basketball team, so I went to all their practices and would do drills with them while I was in elementary. I played everything I could play in high school, so I guess with all the background and my family being very sport-oriented, I just knew (I would coach). I told my parents in the seventh grade what I was planning on doing in my life and I lived it out. I told them I was going to play college basketball and be a coach one day. So it was never a question. I started coaching AAU teams while I was in college to also help prepare me.

Q: What was your playing career like? High school? College?

A: I have so many amazing memories from high school. I started playing on the varsity basketball team as a seventh-grader. I didn’t get to play a lot, but I did get to play. As an eighth-grader, I got to play both junior high and varsity as well. We had a great junior high team, so I wanted to be totally committed to them and then moved up after my season was over. I got a lot of playing time as an eighth-grader and even moved into the starting lineup. My last four years of high school were some of the best. I had always played every sport we had and even cheered. Entering my ninth-grade year I decided to give up cheer and concentrate on basketball, because I knew I wanted to go to college to play. I did continue to play softball but my focus was all basketball. During those four years, we made the playoffs each year. We were having a great season my junior year and I got hurt in January. We were ranked No. 1 in the state that year and I was devastated when I was told I had torn my ACL and I was done for the season. Our team made the playoffs but we didn’t make it to the state tournament. My last two years, we made it to the state tournament and got put out in the semifinals my junior year and made it to the finals my senior year where we got beat by two points. I was so upset because we came home with a red trophy instead of the blue. It was heartbreaking. But during all my years of playing, we made so many memories as a team. I was a four-year all-county and all-area team (member) and made all-tournament teams all four years as well. I made all-state my last three years and was on the all-state tournament teams my last two years. Also made the all-regional tournament team my last two years and was the regional tournament MVP.  I was also a member of the Alabama All-Star team where I got to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. So I have some great high school memories and so much success. I decided after several college offers to take the route of a junior college and decided on Chattanooga State. They gave me a full ride and were just amazing to work with and they just had everything I wanted. I played there for two years and I made the all-conference team as a freshman and we were co-conference champs my sophomore year. I absolutely love it at Chattanooga State. Was so sad it was only a two-year college, but we always scrimmaged Berry College and I decided I wanted to stay close to home, so they offered me a full ride at Berry College — how amazing was that? I was a starter all four years of my college career (I did have to work my way into the starting lineup when I transferred to Berry but I was determined and I did it). I tell everyone I would not change a decision about where I played college ball. I was blessed to play at two amazing colleges and made some wonderful friends and memories at both colleges. I was blessed to graduate from both colleges and without any debt. 

Q: Who were some notable coaches who most impacted the way you instruct players?

A: My high school coach, Bobby Holloway, was definitely one that impacted me. He believed in me from Day 1 and was the reason I became a starter in my eighth-grade year on the varsity (team). He pushed me so hard and taught me it was OK to be yelled at. I would get so mad at him because no matter who messed up in the game, he would always yell at me [laughing]. But as I matured, I understood I was the coach on the court as a point guard and it was my job to coach my team while we were on the court. I still got mad at him, but I knew when it was all over he was harder on me because he pushed me to be even better than I was. So I tell my girls that all the time: You definitely want me to stay on you, because if I am on you then I believe you can do it. My dad was also a very big impact in my life as well. He was the very first coach I was taught by, even though I never got to play for him. The thing I admire the most about my dad was how he would tell me after every game what I did good and what I did bad, and would tell me what to work on but he never talked bad about my coaches. When I would be mad he always said, ‘Well, do what your coaches say.’ ...This was all the way through college; something you don’t see much anymore. I think that made me an even better player because he didn’t take up for me, so it made me push myself even harder. I also had a college coach at Berry — her name was Connie Guinn. I only got to play for her for one year before she left and went to coach in the WNBA. The one year I got to play for her, I learned more in that year than I had in all my college years. She made me an even better player. I learned how to reach down even harder and push myself even more. I became an even better ballplayer my junior season in college because of her. I also learned so much about coaching from her. Probably one of the hardest coaches I had ever played for. She pushed us so hard. I was in the best shape of my life [laughing]. Her coaching style was so different than any coach I had ever had. Practices were extremely hard, but the level of play was also harder. We won games we probably shouldn’t have won just because of the discipline she instilled in us as players and a team.

Q: What has been your favorite sports moment either as a player or coach? What made it special?

A: This is a hard question for me to answer because I have so many special memories. I guess I have two I will talk about. The first one came my junior year. We were a small 1A school and we were playing Fyffe in the county championship — not sure anyone thought we would win that game. I was really sick that day but I would not miss that big of a game. It was a close game the whole time and when the buzzer sounded and we won that game I will never forget that feeling. It was the very first time Valley Head had ever won the varsity county championship. And to beat such a dominant basketball 2A program made it even more special. The next one was my senior year, the first year they did a regional tournament at (Jacksonville State) and we were down (can’t remember how much off the top of my head). In my mind I was thinking, ‘No, we can’t lose this game. We have to regain control,’ and we did. We fought back and won that game to move us to the Final Four in Birmingham. That was the loudest I have ever heard a gym with celebration and our fans were amazing. From that moment all the way to the Final Four, both games in Birmingham and the noise of our small school throughout those last few games was something I will never forget. Gives me chills just thinking back. I think our whole school followed us to Jacksonville and Birmingham. It was a dream every athlete wants to be a part of. Just so thankful and blessed I was able to be a part of it with my team and my coaches.

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