BICKNELL — It’s been a dreary last few years for the North Knox boys basketball program, but on Friday the school made a hire that it hopes gets the team headed in the right direction.
During a special board meeting at the North Knox Administration building on Friday, Daniel Crabtree was approved by a unanimous vote as the new Warriors coach.
Crabtree, 33, was selected by a seven-member committee among over 20 applicants according to North Knox athletic director Kent Doades. It’s the first varsity basketball coaching job for Crabtree, though he’s coached multiple sports since graduating from Tecumseh in 2004.
“I’m ecstatic. I think this is the perfect situation for me,” Crabtree said. “I have a lot of people still to meet, and I’m meeting with the players (Friday) afternoon. Everyone’s been welcoming and willing to offer any kind of help. Coach (Josh) Chambers has already reached out, and so has (former basketball coach) Aaron Hall. It feels like a family atmosphere here, and that’s something I was really looking for.”
After graduating high school, Crabtree walked on briefly to the cross country team at Southern Indiana before transferring to Oakland City. He assisted the track team at Tecumseh in 2005 and also coached basketball at Elberfeld Elementary in the Tecumseh district. In 2006, Crabtree got his first varsity coaching gig with the boys and girls cross country teams and boys track team at Tecumseh.
He got back into basketball as Tecumseh’s freshman coach in 2010, a position he maintained until taking a teaching job at Princeton in 2014. He was a varsity assistant his first year for the Tigers and became JV coach the following season. Despite teaching at Princeton, Crabtree held his track and cross country positions at Tecumseh until he became the girls track coach at Princeton during the 2016-17 school year. He went 52-30 his four years as a JV coach.
Crabtree replaces Matt Houchin, who led the Warriors the past four seasons before resigning last month. In Houchin’s first season in 2015-16, he amassed an 8-16 mark, a respectable record considering the graduation losses from the previous season. But the Warriors never got any better. They won six games the next year and combined to win just four games the last two seasons.
Crabtree has learned a lot while serving under veteran coaches Kevin Oxley at Tecumseh, who’s spent 27 years at the school, and Ryan Haywood at Princeton. Haywood coached six
see crabtree/page b4
years at Mount Carmel, Ill., and the last eight at Princeton, but he’s also moving on, recently taking the job at Loogootee, a Blue Chip Conference foe the Warriors have closed the regular season against the last several seasons.
But despite the lessons from experienced coaches, Crabtree plans on creating his own path.
“Coach Oxley is a great mentor and a great guy to learn things from. I’m still in contact with him at least three times a week,” Crabtree said. “Coach Haywood is another great guy to learn from. I consider them both great friends and mentors, and they’re only a phone call away.
“I’m a little bit more patient and maybe understanding than those guys, but their styles work for them. I think you have to coach to your personality, and if I tried to yell and scream, I’d probably come off as being fake. That’s not necessarily me. But when I do get upset, the guys will know it. It’s something I kind of save for special occasions.”
Crabtree added that building relationships with his players will be crucial.
“I’m a positive guy, and I believe building positive relationships and trust will enable me to get the most out of the kids,” he said. “A strength of mine is building relationships and communicating. I want to know and care about them as people, not just basketball players. I believe the game of basketball is a tool you can use to learn life lessons, and we want these kids to eventually be great fathers, husbands and strong members of the community.
“Xs and Os wise, I’d like to get up and down the floor, maybe get some easy baskets in transition. I’d like to spread the floor, four out-one in, and create some nice driving lanes for drive-and-kicks. The game has gone toward the 3-point shot, and floor spacing can create those easy shots. If you have guys knock them down, your inside game opens up and makes it that much easier.”
Crabtree also noted that defense would be important. While he believes in a strong man-to-man defense, he said he also likes to change things up to “keep opponents on their toes.”
Crabtree isn’t too familiar with North Knox’s returning personnel yet, but he knows they’re young, and he watched them on film twice this past season.
“I think there’s a lot of potential, and I’m excited to work with these guys,” he said. “Watching them on film, they play really hard. If they can bring that intensity and effort, that’s something I don’t have to worry about as a coach, and I can focus on what we want to do. I don’t want to project a certain number of wins, but I think there’s a great opportunity here, and I’m excited for that.”
Doades said there were several things the committee liked about Crabtree.
“Number one is his age. It hits that sweet spot. He’s a guy that’s got some experience with his age, 33, but he’s not too old. At this point, it’s a young man’s game, and if you’ve got a guy in his 50s like I am, it’s hard to do this with the amount of time it takes to build a program. His youth is exciting,” Doades said. “Number two, I think he comes in very knowledgable. I have no doubts he knows the game, and he carries himself very well. I think those qualities will go a long way in helping during his career.
“It’s a process, and I think we have a lot of coming back. Are we going to the State Finals? No, but if we can start to get the ball rolling and building toward a .500 record, I think that’s very attainable this year. And who knows, come sectional time, if they get their confidence going, anything can happen. We have a good nucleus to build around, and I think Daniel’s the man for that job.”
Crabtree and his wife, Victoria, have a 3-year old son, Nathan, and he also has a 13-year old son, Calvin, who lives with his mother in Lynnville. He’s going to teach health and P.E. at North Knox, and for now he’ll make the commute from his family’s home in Owensville, but he’s hopeful to make the move into the area eventually.
Crabtree is the fourth boys basketball coach hired by a Knox County school in less than a year. Last June, South Knox hired David Burkett to replace Mark Rohrer. Six weeks later, Lincoln hired Hall of Famer Steve Brett as a one-year interim coach, and the Alices tabbed Jordan Myers to take Brett’s place in April. Rivet coach Mark Bezy, hired in June of 2016, is now the veteran among the county coaches, but it seems likely each school now has their man for the foreseeable future.