Antoni Staley plans to infuse Polk County’s boys basketball program with a mix of the life experiences he’s had since graduating from the school in 1998.
From the various coaches he’s played for, including former Wolverine head coach Derek Thomas, Staley plans to utilize an uptempo, offensive-minded approach. From the years he spent in the Navy, including two tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Staley wants to instill the same level of discipline and dedication.
He’ll have the opportunity to do all of that next season after the Polk County Board of Education approved on Monday night the hiring of Staley as the school’s seventh boys basketball coach. Staley replaces Josh McEntire, who resigned in March after six seasons leading the program.
Staley, who played with McEntire at Polk County and also served as one of his assistant coaches for one season, can’t wait to get started.
“We had a team meeting today, and I told them that as soon as I get some things settled, next week I want them to start working out,” Staley said. “They were all kind of shocked. I told them that if I could, we’d be in the gym this afternoon shooting around.”
Staley returns to Polk County after serving last season as the head boys coach at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, where he led the Gryphons to a 10-15 record. He coached the varsity girls and junior varsity boys teams the previous season.
Growing up in Polk County with mentors such as Tommy Horne and Thomas, Staley said he developed an interest in coaching. He played basketball while in the Navy and after, exiting the service, continued to play in various minor leagues while also holding camps and training sessions for young players.
The chance to coach at Thomas Jefferson gave Staley the opportunity to begin implementing all he learned along the way, plus his own philosophies.
“Our approach is that we’re going to help make responsible men,” Staley said. “I want to get back to what we used to do as far as haircuts and how we respect people. When I played, if a coach told you something, you did it because you were excited to have made the varsity and excited to be on the team.
“I want to bring that discipline back. I also want us more involved with volunteer work. I want to get the team out into the community and let people see us and want to get people interested in us. On the court, we’re going to have a high-impact offense. We’re going to look like we know what we’re doing.”
Staley remembered being cut from the program by Thomas during his freshman year at Polk County. While he didn’t understand the decision at the time, he soon came to realize why Thomas did it. It’s a lesson he has not forgotten.
“When Coach Thomas cut me, he said, ‘you can play basketball, but your attitude needs an adjustment.’ He broke me down,” Staley said. “I didn’t care at first, but the next day at school, people were asking me why I didn’t make the team and so on.
“It was a humbling experience. Later, he sat me down my junior year and told me he did it for a reason and why. As I got older, being a coach and being a father, I was like, OK, that’s why you did that.”
Staley said his phone didn’t stop buzzing when news of his hiring broke Tuesday afternoon. The outpouring of support made him realize just how excited he is about his new role.
“It means a lot more to me than what I ever thought it would mean,” Staley said. “The response I’ve gotten has meant so much.”