My Mentor, My Coach
About the Guest
Coaching isn't just about winning the game. Coaching is teaching boys to become men. Coach Dru Joyce remembers coaching NBA player LeBron James when LeBron first started playing at age 11. A few years later, Dru coached LeBron's team at national championships and they won first place. Find out why Joyce has continued coaching all these many years.
Dru Joyce IIDru Joyce II is head basketball coach at St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. In his 12 seasons, he has guided the team to a national championship, three state championships, nine district titles and five regional crowns, while garnering one National Coach of the Year award. Coach Dru was born and raised in East Liverpool, Ohio. He is a graduate of East Liverpool High School and holds a degree in business administration from Ohio University. After leaving a career in the corporate...more
Coaching isn’t just about winning the game. Coaching is teaching boys to become men. Coach Dru Joyce remembers coaching NBA player LeBron James when LeBron first started playing at age 11.
My Mentor, My Coach
Bob: Dru Joyce remembers reading an article written by another basketball coach. It was then he realized that coaching basketball was really about something much more.
Dru: Seven principles that he founded his program on—unity, discipline, thankfulness, servant-hood, integrity, passion, and the seventh is humility. If I can get a young man, who comes in the door as a freshman, to accept those values / become those seven characteristics, then I feel like I’ve made an impact.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Today, we’ll meet the high school basketball coach who coached LeBron James during his high school years. We’ll learn about what makes a basketball program really special. Stay tuned.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have often thought that: “If life had not directed you in the direction it took you, you might have become a coach.” Don’t you think?
Dennis: You know, I would like to have thought of myself as a coach—and not just an average coach but really being a good one—but, unfortunately, when my boys were in little league, I coached two successive years, where we won one game each of those years and lost fifteen. [Laughter] So I have no vain imaginations—I was not a great coach, Bob—but we do have a great one here with us, here in the studio. Coach Dru Joyce joins us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome to the broadcast, Coach.
Dru: Thank you. Thank you. Let me say this—my first year of coaching, my record was one win and nine losses—it was in a rec league. So that first year—one in nine.
Bob: That was your first year. So last year, what was the record for the team at St. Vincent’s?
Dru: Twenty-six and one.
Dennis: Over your 14 years, do you know what your record is now?
Dru: I want to say it is 277 and 87.
Dennis: Wow! He won three state titles / one national title. He’s written a book called Beyond Championships. Bob, this is what I love about the guy—I don’t know Coach well, but just reading—your humility just oozes from these pages. You’re writing a book of something that’s beyond championships; and how does the book begin, Coach? Tell the listeners how you start the book!
Dru: “The Beauty of Rock Bottom” is the title of the first chapter. It really just talks about that first year, as the high school head coach. We had a great team with LeBron James—and two of the other players are now playing professionally also—in Europe, my son, Dru Joyce III, and Romeo Travis.
They were ranked as high as number two or three in the country. We had won—I think our record, at the time, was 24 and 2—got to that championship game, playing against a team that we had beaten, earlier in the season.
When I was asked to take over at St. Vincent-St. Mary as the head coach, it came kind of by surprise. I talk about it in the book. Coach Dambrot had an opportunity to go back into college and left. What we had done—because I was his assistant coach—we had beefed up the schedule. When the phone call came—it actually came from a reporter, who told me—says, “Dru, did you hear that Keith has accepted a job?” The question was—because the reporter knew my relationship with the guys that were on the team / the five main guys I had all brought to St. Vincent-St. Mary: “Are you going to take the boys and leave?” I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Coach Dambrot called me later that day and told me that he wanted me to take over. My first thought was: “No I don’t want to mess this thing up. They’re poised to win a national championship. They are poised to become the first team to ever, in the state of Ohio, win four straight championships.” I just didn’t think that I was prepared.
I guess, always in my life, my wife has been that voice that I need to hear. The Lord used her in a special way. When I shared with her the opportunity and that I felt like, “I can’t do this,” she said, “Dru, how can you say, ‘No’?” She said, “This is God honoring all those years of you coaching those guys in travel basketball, and riding up and down the highway to find a place to practice, to traveling every weekend, going all over the country, to find games for them to play.” She said: “This is God honoring all that. How can you say, ‘No,’?” And those were the words I needed to hear.
So I ran to the opportunity—but understanding that, if we won it was going to be because they were Keith Dambrot’s kids; and if we lost, it was going to be my fault. That thought, that fear, that concern—it happened.
Dennis: The book begins with a young man standing at the free-throw line—if he sinks the free throw, you lose.
Dennis: And he sunk it.
Dru: He sunk all of them. That was pretty much it. Now, all those dream / that dream, at that moment, came crashing down. The kids / their hard work—it ended in a way that you never want it to end but understand that it does. Then, for me, it was all those concerns of letting them down. I tell people, all the time—that most coaches get to make all their mistakes in anonymity—in a small gym, off the way, and you know few people.
I had the distinct pleasure of being a head coach in front of TV cameras my first year.
So every mistake—it was always made very clear to as many people who wanted to see it. The newspapers were—if I can say it now—they were brutal the next day. They put it squarely in my lap that I was the reason that the team lost.
Dennis: I think that’s what I appreciate about the book. You start a book that’s talking about character and how to respond to adversity with one of your own—not with a victory / not with the national championship you did win and with the three state titles you won—but you’re talking to athletes about making decisions about how they handle adversity that’s going to affect the rest of their lives.
Dru: Yes. The point was just that—at that lowest moment in my life, that I was able to call upon some values / some principles that I had learned and that were able to restore me to bring me out of it.
First, I had to recognize the truth of the matter—the truth was I had let them down. I had failed them because, you know, it had gotten too big for me. There was no one I could ask, “How do you handle this thing?” LeBron—he’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Dennis: As a high school kid?
Dru: As a high school kid, yes. The team is winning. After every game, not only are there fans waiting for autographs, but the opposing team was waiting for autographs. All the guys are, you know, they’re shaking hands and kissing babies. It was way beyond what I ever imagined, and I didn’t know who to turn to. We were the first team to play in some of the nationally-televised games in the next year because of LeBron’s presence. I had to close practices because people just wanted to hang out in the gym.
They just wanted to be around and watch practice. The newspapers didn’t—the reporters—they had a job, and I respected it; but they didn’t really care too much about what we were trying to get done. They had their jobs—so they were focused on “Can I get that interview?” It was just overwhelming.
In that state championship game, they called it very tight. I wasn’t able to reel the guys back in. It’s a lesson that I really talk to my kids about today—that they’ve got to stay in the present moment. They can’t get hung up on a referee’s call—whether it was good, or bad, or indifferent—you’ve got to move forward. You can’t get caught up, back there, because, if you get caught back there, then what is the present moment require of you now? You can’t give it because you’re caught somewhere else. I wasn’t able to get that point across. The guys allowed some of the calls to affect them, and the game got away from us. So, at the end of the day, it was on me.
I had to recognize that. In recognizing that, I had to be able to now say, “Hey, we’re going to right this ship.” I, at that point, was able to say: “You know what? I got caught up in the winning and the losing too. I’m as much at fault here. I kind of forgot why I’m here.” God had given me this opportunity / this platform, if you will, was to teach them how to become men; and I forgot all about that.
Bob: I want to ask you about that because your life intersects with a young man’s life for maybe three / maybe four years, if he’s really good, as a basketball player. You probably spend as much time with that young man over that three-year period as anybody, except maybe his mom or his dad. A lot of these young men don’t have dads that they’re spending time with. A lot of them have NBA dreams.
Dru: Most of them.
Bob: Yes. You’ve got an agenda with those young men that may be different than the agenda that they’re bringing to the gym with them every day.
If you look and say, “I’ve got three years with this young man, and we went from here to here,”—what’s the end game, for you, as you coach a young man through high school?
Dru: Let me say it this way—when I became the head coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary, I was reading to try to become the best coach I could be. I was reading a basketball publication—I can’t even remember the name of it—it was a Christian man who’d written an article. He’s from a small college in the Northwest—I don’t even remember the name—but what he said in that article really resonated with me.
He had seven principles that he founded his program on—they were unity, discipline, thankfulness, servant-hood, integrity, passion, and the seventh is humility. He talked about those seven principles. I said, “Wow, he’s talking to me!” That’s what I wanted to found my program around.
So, if I can get a young man, who comes in the door as a freshman, to become those seven characteristics / come to accept those values, then I feel like I’ve made an impact—that they can understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves / that they have humility to recognize that their talents are God-given and the fame is man-given. As Coach John Wooden would say, “Conceit is self-given. Be careful,”—that they need to have discipline. They need to be thankful for all the things they’ve been given.
Sometimes, the kids today—they have an attitude of entitlement—especially young men, who feel like they’re great at something. I want them to understand, “You need to be thankful just that you have the opportunity to play this game, let alone to be good at it,”—that they need to serve one another. They say, “How do you serve?” I tell my guys, as they’re going out onto the court, “Anyone can be great—all you have to do is serve.”
I tell them, before they go out: “Be great today—serve your teammates.”
They feel they have some integrity about themselves—not only that they walk the walk, but they talk the talk, and that they have passion. I think that so many things in life we just go through passionless—there’s no fire about it. You need to have some fire about whatever it is you’re doing. I’m hoping in three years—if I can have a young man understand and inherit those characteristics, then maybe / just maybe, we have done something right.
Bob: You’ve had a chance, over the years, to see some young men grow up and step up into manhood. They come in as boys, and they’ve left as men; haven’t they?
Dru: Yes. You know, the great thing about it is—now, ten years later / fourteen years later—I can actually look at some of the guys and say: “The Lord blessed us, and we had an impact.
“We were able to make that time spent with us mean something.” You feel good about it, but you recognize that God could’ve used anyone. I just happened to have been the one that was in the right place at the right time, and I’m thankful for that opportunity.
Bob: So I have to ask one other question; and that is—you started coaching LeBron James when he was 11 years old. When you saw him, at 11, did you say, “There was something special”; or when did you realize, “There’s something special here”?
Dru: As far as his basketball—we played an AA National Championship at 14 years old. LeBron separated himself from that tournament—there are a number of guys, who are in the NBA now, who were also playing in that tournament—and LeBron / he separated himself—he was, head and shoulders, the best player there. I realized, at that moment—that, not only was he special in my eyes, because you could see it happening—but, now, everyone began to see it.
Dennis: So the national championship that you won?
Dru: The loss that junior year, not only refocused me, it refocused everyone. The guys—they made a commitment, coming back that senior year—they understood what it was going to take. We weren’t going to shy away from anyone. We made the schedule even tougher. We wanted to show everyone that—not only were we willing to play all the teams, and we believed that we were great, and we were a very good team—I knew there were guys on that team that would never see Pauley Pavilion—I said, “This is an opportunity.” It wasn’t about LeBron—it was about the other guys. LeBron happened to help provide the opportunity and the greatness of that first five—but then—the guy / Number 15 on the bench—he was part of that journey, too, when he got to experience all those things. To me, that was what was most important.
Dennis: So Pauley Pavilion is UCLA; right?
Dennis: This is a high school team, folks—this is not a college team.
Dru: Right. This is a high school team. The promoter wanted us to play at the Staple Center, where the Lakers play. I’m like—I’m a John Wooden guy—so I’m like, “No, I want to play in Pauley Pavilion.” It’s so funny when I think about it. We played Mater Dei, which is always a nationally-ranked high school team from California. When we got to the gym, they were in the home locker.
I told the promoter—I said: “I guess the Lord will have to forgive me, and I’m sure that He has,”—I said: “We’re not playing—you promised that we’d be in that locker room.” He said, “Are you serious?” I said. “Yes I’m serious.” I said: “This is a once in a lifetime for me. Mater Dei coach can come back here—he might have played here before. We want to be in that locker room.” It sounds so insignificant to them, but it meant the world to me to feel like I was in the same locker room that John Wooden was in.
We moved them out of the locker room / we were in the locker room. It was a great game, and we won.
Bob: You won the game.
Dru: Yes, we won.
Bob: There you go!
Dennis: How many people were at Pauley Pavilion when you played there?
Dru: Sold out.
Dennis: One last question, Coach. I’ve been waiting to ask this question because—just listening to your story / fascinated by your life—admire you so much for what you’re doing and what you’ve done. What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done in all your life?
Dru: The most courageous thing that I’ve done—and I say, “I”; but it’s really “we” / my wife and I—is after that championship year. I had been in corporate America for 25 years. My company tolerated—they didn’t like the fact that I was a high school basketball coach—because I was doing it after-hours / I wasn’t missing work.
Dennis: So you coached the national championship, part time?
Dru: Yes; yes. So after that, they kind of put me out to pasture.
I was calling on a major account, in the mid-west / $15 million account. They were going to move me to an account in New York that had been in bankruptcy twice. I kind of got the message that, “You need to focus on something else.”
At that time, my youngest son was just about to enter high school. When they offered me to take the job—to go into New York / drive up to Syracuse, New York, from Akron once a week—I said, “Yes.” I left that meeting, and I called my wife. I said, “My mouth said, ‘Yes’; but my heart’s saying, ‘No.’” I went home / we talked about it. Honestly, we cried about it and decided that—[emotional] excuse me—that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. At the end of my day, I’d always ask myself—from that sales job / and I was very appreciative of what it had afforded my family—but I had asked myself, “What have I done that really mattered?”
But when I got to that basketball court and that gym with those guys, I just knew that was where I was supposed to be. As I said, we cried about it. I woke up the next morning and I said, “I’m going to leave.”
We’re Christians. We always say we believe in God, but it was kind of easy to believe in God—I had a paycheck every other week and a secure job / I’m living a very nice existence. But I said that I wanted to do this—so we started our faith walk. We walked away from a job in corporate America. I had no clue what I was going to do. We still had a house note. We had a young son, who was just a freshman in high school. My son, Dru, was a freshman, just finishing his freshman year in college.
I don’t think there’s enough time to share; but God really impacted that decision, and He honored it.
We recognize now—my wife and I—what savings are about because I did get a buy-out from the company. I was very thankful for that. It helped us through nine months. We lost some money, trying to do different things that first year, and trying to figure out where to go, and what I was going to do. Over time, though, the Lord gave me an opportunity to build the business that I’ve now built around basketball. He’s blessed it beyond my wildest dreams—like this year, there will be over 600 teams that we’re bringing to Akron for a travel team tournament. This will generate something like
$4 million for the Akron / greater Akron community over the weekend. It affords my wife and me our livelihood for a year. I’m able to coach and do what I believe God has purposed me to do.
Dennis: If listeners are wondering if their son can get in this classic—it’s called the King James Shooting Stars Classic—
—it occurs every April. Maybe there’ll be a few listeners—maybe you’ll go from 600 to 800.
Dru: I don’t know if we have enough gym space. [Laughter]
Dennis: You know what, Coach? I’ve got a feeling you’ll figure it out—if you have to go to Pauley Pavilion.
Dru: You know what? I would love to do that. You know, every year, it’s been a great challenge to find the time and to do the things that we’ve been able to do; but there’s always been a way made. The Lord is—as I said, He’s honored it.
I share in the book about how He put it all together. I really talk about the dance—how He led, and then He opened the door and allowed me to lead, then He came back. It was just I didn’t understand it, going through. In fact, there were things I went someplace, thinking I was supposed to do one thing—the Lord showed me, “No, this is what you are really there for.”
It was after all this came to being. There’s no doubt in my mind—if there ever were a doubt—that, you know, how instrumental the Lord is in our lives, and how He’s blessed this faith walk, and how He’s honored it because I think that He understands that we’ve honored Him.
Dennis: I think there are probably some listeners, who have found their faith encouraged, Bob, by Coach Joyce. I think his book’s going to encourage them even further.
Bob: I do too. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s called Beyond Championships: A Playbook for Winning at Life. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to request your copy of the book, Beyond Championships. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order a book from us, online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask for the book. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I’ve been thinking here—whether parents have children who are actively-involved in sports or whether families are just watching sports as casual fans—there is a lot we can learn about things like humility / the importance of teamwork—a lot of important life lessons that get played out on a basketball court or on a football field. One of the things we try to do, here at FamilyLife, is to help moms and dad better understand how we can engage with what’s going on in the world around us in such a way that we can instill biblical values in the hearts and lives of our children. Our goal is to help you, as parents, effectively develop godly young men and young women.
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And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about your tongue. We’re going to talk about how we can do a better job of controlling what comes out of our mouths. So if that’s an issue for you, and I see you nodding your head, then be sure to be with us here again tomorrow because we’re going to talk about that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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