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Chester County Press

Playing for the 'K'

12/06/2016 10:44AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Just moments before practice on Dec. 1, Brian Grashof, the new head coach of the varsity basketball team at Kennett High School, gathered his team and the junior varsity squad in the middle of the brand new playing surface at Reynolds Gymnasium.
At first, the players, fresh from a shoot-around, sat in clumps of two and three, waiting for words from Grashof and his assistant Jacob Gray. Then something out of the ordinary happened. Grashof eyed the mishmash order of things, shook his head, and pointed to the large blue 'K' on the gleaming floor.
“I want everyone sitting in the blue,” he said. “Let's get riled up. Let's push each other. Remember, it's not about us. It's about the 'K.'”
Every player then squeezed together, and whether or not they understood Grashof's motivation for doing so, this wedged-in group of 20 or so teenagers became the founding members of a new generation of Kennett High School basketball.
“Our practices are a lot about buying in,” said Grashof, 27, who was hired this past July, and inherits a team that finished 1-14 last season. “If we all buy in together, we can have a unity of family, even if the results are not what we want. As long as we are all working together towards the same goal, I think we can start to turn this program around.”
Ask any coach and he or she will readily proclaim that the largest aspiration of their new job – one that often supersedes winning games – is the challenge of getting players to accept the blueprint of his or her coaching platform. Very often, it is not shared on chalkboards, but in the form of philosophies. For Grashof, his application to coaching at Kennett is defined by one word.
“Energy,” he said. “Every time I come to the gym, I come prepared, and I expect a certain level of focus and intensity, and a 'Get-After-It' atmosphere. The harder you work at anything in life, the better you're going to be at it. I bring expectations of hard work. We will not take plays off at practice. We will push each other, and it starts with coach Gray and me.”
Gray, who once played for Kennett Athletic Director Sean Harvey at Oxford and is now Kennett's new junior varsity coach, pointed to the varsity's recent 30-point scrimmage loss against Academy Park as a first bookmark of this new culture. Players did not set proper screens and too many were not boxing out on rebounds, but rather than define the loss as a negative, Gray said he and Grashof looked at the game as a series of teachable moments that can first be discussed with the team and then improved.
“Brian and I got together and talked about it, and we put our players in different situations at practice, to allow them a challenge and a chance to succeed,” Gray said. “It's our job to boost them up and imbue them with energy and enthusiasm. Most importantly, it's about showing them how it's done.”
Nearly from the time he first played with an orange rubber ball and a tyke-sized hoop and backboard at the age of 2, basketball has served as a continuum of joy and passion in Grashof's life. Born and raised in Downingtown, he worshiped the Alan Iverson-led 76er teams, and spent countless days with his grandfather, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, at the Palestra watching the Quakers. In a basketball journey that led to being a star player on the 2008 Downingtown West team that won the Ches-Mont League championship, and later as a collegiate at St. Mary's College in Maryland, Grashof has been led by the positive influences of his coaches.
Chief among these coaches, he said, was Damien Blair, now the head basketball coach at West Chester University, who coached Grashof for four years at Downingtown West. It was Blair's philosophies and  expectations for his players that have helped form the teaching nucleus of what Grashof wants to bring to Kennett.
“Coach Blair was who I got my heart and work ethic for the game from,” said Grashof, who also teaches science in the Downingtown Area School District. “It was about playing hard on defense, and taking it personal when someone scored on me. Maybe my on-the-court strategies are a little different than his, but how I played the game and how I expect my team to play is all based on what I learned from coach Blair.”
“One of Brian's intangibles is that he played for Damien Blair, who I coached against, and have the utmost respect for,” Harvey said. “The fact that he played for a coach who taught him how to win the right way is one factor that was hard to ignore in my eyes.
“We felt as though Brian has the ability to build relationships which will allow him to successfully build the basketball program,” Harvey added. “He understands how much time and effort is needed to be able to compete in the Ches-Mont League. His open gyms in the fall were highly attended, which is an extremely good sign to me. There is excitement and enthusiasm around the program, because the staff is making connections with the student athletes.”
Kennett opens its 2016-17 regular season on Dec. 9 against Garnet Valley in the opening game of the 2016 Unionville Tipoff Tournament, with a club that Grashof said will utilize its strengths. He pointed to senior guard Bowen DuPhily, senior forward Kerry Tomasetti, sophomore guard Mitch Kasara and junior forward Ben Lesher as four of the team's key pieces.
“It was always my dream when I was a kid to coach at this level, and it's great to be able to have this opportunity,” Grashof said. “We have a great new floor. We have a great community. If we come together and play hard, we're building towards becoming a Ches-Mont League contender. My ultimate goal is to win a Ches-Mont title. I did it as a player, and I want to do the same as a coach.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].