A little more than a week since being hired by Flowery Branch High, David Sokol already feels right at home.
The Falcons’ new boys basketball coach is impressed with how well he has been received by the school, from teachers and administrators to members of the community itself.
“You’re going down the hallway, and they’re all just welcoming you to the program, the school and the community — it’s been great,” Sokol said. “I plan on staying as long as they’ll have me.”
Compatibility with his new surroundings is well on his side, and Sokol is ready to give back to the program. He’s rolling up his sleeves right away, and beginning summer workouts this week.
He’s still not 100 percent certain what kind of talent or team strengths he has. But if Flowery Branch’s student-athlete base says anything to him, it’s that he’ll have a quality team ready to take the court for the 2013-2014 season.
“From my understanding, we have some good young guys coming up, and some couple of pieces returning,” Sokol said. “I think it’s all going to be about the process the first couple of years. Just building it back, and getting guys to take pride in Flowery Branch basketball.”
Sokol was hired last Monday to turn around the Falcons program that has fallen on hard times in recent years. They went 9-18 last season, finishing under .500 for the third consecutive year.
It hasn’t always been that way, however. Flowery Branch experienced a highly successful run in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, when it reached the state playoffs both years and posted winning records under two different coaches.
Under current Lakeview Academy coach Todd Cottrell, the Falcons went 26-4 in 2007-2008, winning a Region 7-AAA title and reaching the Class AAA state quarterfinals in the process. A year later, Duke Mullis took over the team and guided it to a 15-12 record and another playoff appearance. Mullis resigned from his position following the conclusion of the 2012-2013 season.
Sokol knows the program is capable of being successful, and he knows a thing or two about winning himself.
He spent the last three seasons serving the same position at nearby Winder-Barrow High, which shares Region 8-AAAAA with Flowery Branch. The Bulldoggs never won fewer than 10 games during his tenure, and enjoyed a 21-7 record in 2009-2010 that put them in the state playoffs.
Winder-Barrow went 13-13 last season, despite having a relatively undersized team that lacked a true inside presence and relied more on accurate shooting from the perimeter.
Flowery Branch wasn’t necessarily the tallest team in Region 8-AAAAA either, but Sokol doesn’t necessarily plan to build another team full of long-range shooters. Instead, he’ll plan his offense molded around the personnel that he has for the upcoming season.
It will be a young group. It won’t include last year’s leading scorer Jamaad Stephens, speedy guard Nick Wayne or the typical supporting cast of Jaleel Bailey and Darius Curry. But it does have a returning starter in 6-foot-5 rising senior Cody Dewing, as well as shooting guard Justin Curry and last year’s reserve point guard, Jemon Randolph.
“We’re going to be evaluating all summer,” Sokol said. “I don’t know exactly what we have, and that’s why this summer it’s key that we evaluate and see what’s best for our offense and our defense, whatever it may be.”
Historically, Sokol has been a defensive-minded coach, specializing in low-scoring affairs and wins with point totals commonly in the 50s. The Bulldoggs’ 54 points allowed per game in 2012-2013 was second-lowest in Region 8-AAAAA, but their 51 points scored was last.
Flowery Branch posted similar numbers, with 52 points scored per game and 57 points allowed.
“I’ll never change my philosophy on defense,” Sokol said. “Offensively, you adjust to what you have. Over the years, I’ve had a variety of different players and personnel.”
Sokol gets his first taste of Hall County competition this year in various non-region games, including the annual Lanierland Tournament in December.
Flowery Branch finished seventh in last year’s tournament, which pits all of the county’s teams against each other, regardless of classification.
“I’ve never (been) part of it, but I’ve known coaches that have been part of that,” Sokol said. “It’s big — it’s big to the community, the parents, the players. You’re going against teams that you’re familiar with, and it’s always good to do well in that tournament.
“It bodes well for your school and your program, and I’m sure there’s personal challenges among players and communities. Ultimately, we’re looking forward to how we compete in the region, but it’s always fun to play in those types of tournaments.”
Among the coaches Sokol will face in both Hall County competition and region games is one who briefly held his position a few weeks prior to his hiring.
When Mullis stepped down in March, Flowery Branch initially hired then-North Hall coach Benjie Wood to take over the program. Wood held the position for a month before accepting the same job at Gainesville in April.
It reopened the door for Sokol, who has served as a head coach in Georgia since 2002.
He spent his first seven seasons with South Forsyth, leading it to three 20-win seasons and three second-round state playoff appearances.
Now in a new environment and a new chapter of his coaching career, Sokol holds high expectations for Flowery Branch boys basketball, and for good reason.
The entire school holds them as well.
“You’re going to get a lot support,” Sokol said. “They have high expectations, which they should in all of their athletic programs.”