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New Haven replaces mentor with assistant

– Bruce Stephens really didn’t start seriously considering being a head coach until June when his mentor and boss for almost two decades, Al Gooden, left New Haven to become the new boys basketball coach at Lawrence Central.

And now, after 18 years as Gooden’s assistant at Harding and New Haven, Stephens will become Gooden’s replacement with the Bulldogs. The school made the official announcement Thursday.

“I never thought about not coaching with Al,” Stephens said of his future coaching prospects. “I had so much freedom, and he made me feel like I was a head coach. I did think about being a head coach, but I never really thought about when that day would come. When he let me know that he would be moving on (to Lawrence Central), he was one of the main ones that said this is something you should go after.”

Stephens said he will have the same emphasis as Gooden with hard work, rebounding and defense being his mainstays.

“Basically the (head) coach is a little shorter and doesn’t weigh as much,” Stephens said, joking about the size and stature difference between he and Gooden. “It won’t be that much different. Al and I do have a couple of things that we are different on, but the majority of it will remain the same. The transition should be pretty decent.”

A Wayne graduate, Gooden was 54-14 in three years at New Haven after going 338-214 in 23 years at Harding and Heritage.

Gooden and Stephens were at Harding from 1996 to 2011 when Harding closed. The two then moved over to New Haven.

Stephens was the varsity assistant/junior varsity coach a majority of the time at Harding.

He was on the staff when the Hawks won the Class 2A state championship in 2011 and when they were state runners-up in 2002, 2006 and 2008.

At New Haven, Stephens was the varsity assistant.

“When we were at Harding, we didn’t have a lot of coaches,” Stephens said. “So I was always involved with the varsity program the 18 years I was with him. The X’s and O’s are not going to be much of a transition. The big thing will be things like talking with the media and being the guy who people deal with. As far as with the players, my role won’t change that much.”

Stephens joins Bishop Luers boys basketball coach J.J. Foster as former Gooden assistants who are now leading programs.

gjones@jg.net

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