GENE PHELPS: Norris Ashley was all about players, consistency

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

Norris Ashley didn’t demand respect from his opponents … he earned it.
Ingomar Attendance Center’s legendary 64-year-old coach officially retired with little fanfare this week after 43 seasons – 41 in Union County – of teaching basketball and baseball skills to talented, eager and impressionable young girls and boys.
He was a master of his craft. His basketball and baseball teams competed for 20 state championships during his tenure and won nine, not including a Grand Slam title in boys basketball.
His players will tell you he was demanding. They will also say he pulled no punches. He didn’t play favorites.
Ashley believes that only one-third of any game is coaching. The rest has to do with the players.
“It comes down to the character of the kids involved,” he said. “Can they take coaching? I was lucky to have players who got better when I got onto them hot and heavy.”
The ones who crumbled receiving instruction didn’t play.
“If anybody won a 1,000 games, it was the players who listened to me,” he said, referring to his final coaching record of 1,697 wins and 860 losses in girls and boys basketball.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE
Ashley rarely experimented when it came to his coaching style.
“He ran a man-to-man defense, a diamond-and-one press and the flex offense,” said Union County Schools superintendent Ken Basil, a former hoops coach at rival West Union. “He would even run the same in-bounds play. He just didn’t change.”
Ashley didn’t think he needed to change, especially the use of a man-to-man defensive scheme.
“I always thought that if you changed defenses in a game that likely meant you weren’t real good at any of them,” he said.
Plus, he added, “If you play man defense you can assign blame.”
He thought his disciplined flex offense enabled his basketball teams to control the tempo of a game. His diamond-and-one press also affected tempo.
“If you can get a team to play your way, you’re in pretty good shape,” he said.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Jonathan Ashley, who grew up sitting beside his father on bench and in the dugout, will continue the Ashley tradition at Ingomar. He leaves Myrtle after a successful 158-win, six-year tenure.
“It’s all I’ve ever known … going to Ingomar games,” he said.
The 35-year-old Ashley is also prepared for the inevitable comparisons of coaching style.
“Nobody’s capable of replacing him,” he said. “I’ve been told that my teams play like his. That’s a compliment. If I can get mine to play like them, I’m going to continue to do that.”
Gene Phelps covers high school sports for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at gene.phelps@journalinc.com.