By Mark Lewis

Local Sports Journal

As the old phrase goes, it’s not where you start but where you finish.

But the performance of the Brandywine (MI) High School girls varsity basketball squad, and its coach, Josh Hood, been impressive from start to finish – four conference, district and regional titles over the past four years.

In fact, Hood, as the head of the Brandywine program, has never lost a conference, district or regional-level game.

But Brandywine’s success hasn’t come easy, especially for a three-freshman core of Hood’s players who now have helped lead the charge to the Lady Cats’ most recent success.

“When those girls played as freshman versus AYBT (American Youth Basketball Tour) competition,” said Hood, speaking on the phone as he returned from a brief summer vacation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, “they didn’t win a game. But every year, those girls did better, got better and now I’d say they have done pretty well.”

Over his four years at the helm, Hood sports a spectacular 95-7 record. He was named the 2013 South Bend Tribune Coach of the Year for girls sports, a result of the strength of his 2012-13 team, which, despite lacking a dominant inside presence (always a hallmark of a Hood coached squad), finished 24-1.

Hood also coached from 2002-05 Coloma (MI) boys team to a 54-16 overall mark, and from 2005-09 he coached the Cassopolis boys team to a 63-30 record.

But contrary to the pressure to win at the higher levels, Hood said the focus early on in AYBT play isn’t on wins and losses.

“For us it’s about getting different looks,” he said, “about getting better each time.”

Brandywine’s success derives, said Hood, from his program’s focus on building skills early, to which AYBT has been instrumental in kicking into overdrive. When Hood took over the program, the school’s K-6 girls youth basketball program, called the Kiddie Cats, had just 19 girls participating in offseason basketball programs like AYBT.

Now that number is 97.

Because of AYBT’s focus on developing young talent, Hood believes it’s a perfect fit.

“For our program, with its great competition and skill development, AYBT is very much a part of our success,” said Hood.

AYBT Executive Director Denny Parks has high praise for Hood. Parks, who taught Hood at Southwestern Michigan College, knew one reason his student was headed for success was that Hood was so strong in the classroom.

“(Hood) was a great student,” said Parks. “He is demanding, yet fair and very, very prepared.  He is just an awesome human being!”

Parks continued, “What I like the most about Josh is that he gives back to the community. He has a ‘pink’ game where he supports breast cancer.  He has a game where he supports the troops. He runs golf outings for local charities and friends in need of something.  He is just a great human being, instead of just being a great coach.”

Pat Touhey, head coach of the girls team at Niles, had some good things to say about Hood as well.

“Josh knows how to develop kids,” Touhey told the South Bend Tribune. “And he has a system in place and knows how to develop the type of players who fit his system. His passion for the game and the commitment in time separates him from a lot of Class C coaches. As a result, he’s ahead of the game as far as the competition he has. Josh is such a student of the game. He spends tons of time on the X’s and O’s. He’s probably one of the top coaches around with the way he scouts teams and goes over film. His teams are one of the most prepared teams around.”

That preparation starts way before games are won and trophies are lifted. AYBT is one of the ways coaches like Josh Hood use to raise the level of play across his or her entire team.

“I can’t stress enough the competition in an AYBT tournament,” said Hood. “We (encounter) great competition at the district level. When we get to Nationals, we have to raise our game even higher. It’s a really good mix of school teams and travel teams, which gives us a look at players and styles we haven’t seen before. The focus is where it should be: on getting better.”

For more information on AYBT tournaments and events, click here.

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