(Town Crier photo/Trent Fletcher)
New Manila girls head basketball Coach Jeff Priest was looking for a school with a rich basketball tradition, one where players and fans live and breathe the game. Priest believes he has found that school and community in Manila.
The 27-year old Marmaduke graduate spent his first five years at Piggott, where he compiled a record of 74-57. Priests' teams qualified for the regional tournament three straight seasons, including a trip to the state tournament in his third year at the helm. The former Mohawk coach guided his team to runner-up finishes in both conference play and in the district tournament, while garnering a runner-up spot in the Northeast Arkansas Invitational Tournament in 2005.
"We had a pretty good run at Piggott," said Priest. "We won over 20 games two straight seasons and had some pretty good success in post season play. But I was looking for a school that really wanted to concentrate on basketball. Volleyball cut into our basketball at Piggott. I had to share my players, which limited a lot of our practice time. I knew Manila was a basketball only school and that I would have the players year round. The administration has given me full control from fourth grade through high school, which is exciting for me.
"Manila has a rich tradition and loves their basketball. I already knew a lot about this conference from my playing days at Marmaduke. It's a good school, a good town, and I think it's just a real good fit for me and my family."
Priest talked about his basketball philosophy, which consists of an up-tempo and fast paced style. "I come from a school, Marmaduke, noted for scoring a lot of points," said Priest. "From what I have seen so far, we will have a lot of speed. We will push the ball up the court and press a lot on defense. I think the kids enjoy playing this type of game and the fans like to see that style of play. When we score, we will turn on the pressure defensively and keep the game moving. I like to play a lot of man to man defense, but we will adjust and play zone if the situation arises.
"I have had a chance to meet the girls and watch them practice. We have already gotten some things going and I really believe this is going to be a fun year. I am eager to get started.
"I hope to coach here for a long time. The girls have been nothing but great and I am looking forward to meeting all the people in the community. I know how hungry they are about their basketball."
Priest will also coach girls softball, where he inherits a talented group that made it to the second round of the state tournament in 2007.
Priest obtained his degree from Williams Baptist College where he was a walk-on in basketball. He has already received his master's degree in administration. Priest's wife Meagan is a teacher in the Holcomb, Mo., school district and is currently working on her master's degree in counseling.