Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008

Laurel basketball coach moving on

Coutreyer joins mentor as assistant at Hampton University

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Gazette file photo
Laurel basketball coach Keith Coutreyer can only sit with the crowd and watch as his team plays Flowers in summer league play at High Point High School in July, 2007

Keith Coutreyer, who coached the Laurel High School boys' basketball team to the Class 4A South Region championship last year, is leaving the Spartans to join the staff at Hampton University next season.

Coutreyer finalized the deal at the historically black university in southeastern Virginia Monday after mulling an offer from head coach and longtime friend Kevin Nickelberry since mid- July. He said leaving Laurel was the toughest career decision he's ever made.

"It's just one of those things, an opportunity," said Coutreyer, who last season guided Laurel to the school's first regional title in boys' basketball since 1980. "At the same time, I'm definitely losing a place I've called home for 14 years. It's hard to wrap my mind around it."

Laurel principal Dwayne Jones, who was the head coach at Laurel when Coutreyer first joined the staff, said he was sad to see Coutreyer go, but understood his decision.

"You never want to see anybody leave, but if folks leave you hope it's for something bigger and better," Jones said, adding that the search is under way to fill the coaching job and Coutreyer's position as a special education teacher.

Coutreyer and Nickelberry, a Central High School graduate, have a long relationship, dating to when Coutreyer played for Nickelberry at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park in the early 1990s. Nickelberry's first college coaching job was as an assistant there for one year, alongside current Gwynn Park coach Mike Glick. Coutreyer and Nickelberry later were roommates, while Nickelberry was an assistant at Howard.

Nickelberry is entering his third season at Hampton, which went 18-12 and placed second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last year. He is regarded as a rising coach and a strong recruiter. He arrived at Hampton after stints as an assistant at Clemson, Charlotte, Monmouth and Howard.

Coutreyer said he never seriously considered joining the college ranks, even when his friend landed the top job at Hampton. When Nickelberry contacted him in July, seeking to fill two assistant coaching positions, the idea of coaching alongside a friend appealed to Coutreyer even more than the prestige of the job.

"He's been a mentor to me as I've gotten into coaching," Coutreyer said. "More than coaching at the college level, it was working for coach Nickelberry [that led to the decision]."

Coutreyer said his position will focus on coaching guards and academic coordination.

The Pirates' roster has several county products, including Chris Tolson and Milade Lola-Charles, who played for Coutreyer two years ago at Laurel. Jordan Brooks from Charles H. Flowers, Kwame Morgan from Largo and John Ntoko from Eleanor Roosevelt also are on the team.

Coutreyer spent 13 years as a teacher and coach at Laurel, the first five as an assistant under Jones before taking over the head job in 2000, tallying an 89-94 career record.

Also under his leadership, Laurel produced three Gazette-Star All-County First-Team selections in Tolson, Will Alston (Jacksonville) and John Vaughan (George Mason).

"There's not many opportunities to do what you love solely," Coutreyer said. "Being in the classroom was great and I loved those kids, but coaching was my passion."

E-mail Kevin Hilgers at khilgers@gazette.net.