Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of our Coach’s Corner series which feature Q&A sessions with high school and college coaches around the Santa Clarita Valley.
Canyon High boys basketball finished tied for second in the Foothill League with a record of 5-5 last season. The Cowboys went 16-14 overall. This summer former coach Sean DeLong stepped down after four seasons and handed the program off to new coach Alex Dunwoody.
A Valencia native, Dunwoody came from a broken home and played college basketball at Waldorf University in Forrest City, Iowa. Below he tells The Signal what drove him to become a basketball coach and what’s helped him along the way.
Q: Tell our readers a little about yourself.
A: I’m a teacher at La Mesa Junior High School. I’ve been doing that for three years. I’ve been coaching for about six or seven years. I’ve helped out at College of the Canyons. I also was an assistant at (Waldorf University).
Q: What challenges do you think your team might face this season?
A: I think the biggest challenge for us right now is just the immediate change that the they had. Obviously I wasn’t there during the summer with (DeLong) stepping down. Then I wasn’t able to see them for about three weeks after I was hired. So I think we’re just fighting an uphill battle with time because a lot of teams have been playing together for three or four years and have had their system in place. We’ve only had our system in for three or four months.
Q: Are you changing anything from the previous system?
A: A little bit. I’m just trying to find their strengths and utilize those and find their weaknesses.
Q: You’re coming from Valencia High where you were an assistant coach. So how did that job prepare you for this job?
A: (Former Valencia High coach Robert “Rocket” Collins), who I played for in high school, and (current coach Chad Phillips) did a tremendous job of allowing me to grow and try different things; whether that be X’s and O’s, or finding ways to motivate kids. Anytime I needed help, they were more than willing to give me advice or lead me in the right direction.
It prepared me on the court, but also for off the court stuff: dealing with booster clubs, dealing with parents, dealing with things that you may not (deal with) as a first-year assistant coach and how to handle it as a varsity coach.
Q: Why did you decide you wanted to become a basketball coach?
A: The main reason is because my background wasn’t the best — not growing up with a father figure in my life. My mom was constantly working to provide for me and my brother. It was coaches, teachers, and family friends that were able to lead me in the right direction. I just try to provide that same type of structure and balance for kids.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a coach?
A: It was 2004. I was a volunteer assistant for a youth team. They were 9 year olds and 10 year olds. I just loved seeing kids get that “ah ha moment” when they’re struggling while learning a skill and everything clicks for them. That’s what made me want to become a teacher and a coach.
Q: You grew up out here. So what made you go all the way to Iowa to play college basketball?
A: Well I was fortunate that they offered me a scholarship. For me, it was about being a well-rounded person and also getting an education. So it didn’t matter where the place was. You could’ve tucked me anywhere in the U.S. and I would’ve went — if the money was right and the playing opportunity was there.
It ended up working out. I ended up building a lot of relationships with people in that area I still talk to. It’s nice to build relationships and get out of your comfort zone.
Q: Forrest City has a population of 4,000 people — (Dunwoody interjects)
A: (Laughs) You have to drive 30 minutes to get to a Wal-Mart. You have to go two hours to get to Des Moines, two hours to Minneapolis.
Q: So, you’re out there as a young man living in rural Iowa. What did you learn through that experience?
A: The biggest thing I learned was the power of helping people. If you’ve ever grown up in a rural area, you just realize how genuine people are. If you’re on the side of the road with a flat tire, nine out of 10 times the next person that’s driving by is going to stop and help you out. It’s a very tight-knit community. Everybody is more than willing to help everybody. When you get to the bigger cities, it’s tougher because you’re scared of who you can trust.
There, they’re more than willing to lend you a helping hand, regardless of if you’ve lived there for 20 years or just moved to the community. All the bad things you hear, there’s a lot of good things going on in the world.
Q: What did you learn basketball wise there?
A: I learned a lot just from helping out (as a graduate assistant) because I had to recruit. When I played I suffered a pretty severe injury and I just wasn’t able to play the way I wanted to. Just the whole concept of relying not only on the best players, but the next person up mentality. Just being a tight-knit group.
Q: What do you like about your day job teaching physical education?
A: I love interacting with the kids. Obviously teaching them new activities, building on their physical fitness, but it’s the relationship aspect. When kids know that you care about not just their grade, they’re more willing to work hard for you and follow directions.
Just asking the kids how they’re doing, how’s everything in their lives, if there’s anything I can do to help academically or if they need help in another avenue in their life.
Q: When I graduated from high school, I learned my coaches put in a lot of long hours. How do you balance your day job, your family life and your passion as a coach?
A: For me, I try to find different outlets, not just basketball. I go out with my friends a lot and just talk life with my assistant coach. So it’s not basketball 24/7. Just breaking up the monotony, because even the kids get worn down when it’s just constant basketball.
Q: What are your own personal coaching goals, whether at Canyon High or elsewhere long term?
A: I have definitely thought about coaching at the college level. I understand how much of a grind it is though. So I would have to really think about it because when you’re a lower-level assistant, you’re not going to make a lot of money and the time is a lot.