AUGUSTA — Hopefully, all the peripheral stuff that goes with coaching won’t get to Luke Hartwell for a while. The calls from parents, the year-round commitment, the long bus rides. No matter how much you love it, coaching high school basketball is a grind, and hopefully Hartwell can ignore that for a long time.
Hartwell is in his first season as head boys basketball coach at Valley High School, and we’re witnessing the beginning of what could be a fantastic coaching career.
On Saturday, Hartwell coached the Cavaliers to the Western Class D title, beating heavily-favored Hyde 50-49 when sophomore Cody Laweryson capped a comeback with a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
“Remember, the basketball game is 32 minutes. It’s a game of adjustments. I thought our boys adjusted very well defensively,” Hartwell said.
Hartwell graduated from Valley in 2002. As a player, Hartwell was a member of the Valley team that set the state record for consecutive wins, 101. The Cavs won four of their state record six straight state championships with Hartwell and his twin brother, Jason, on the team. Jason is now Luke’s assistant coach.
Across the court, former Valley star and Hartwell teammate Nick Pelotte worked as the color commentator on MPBN’s broadcast of the game, and wasn’t surprised Hartwell has had such success in his first season as a head coach.
“We had parents who were well in tuned to the game. Jason and Luke’s father is a huge fan of basketball and coached a real long time. My dad was a huge fan and coached,” Pelotte said. “If your father’s a welder, you’re probably going to know something about welding when you get a little bit older.”
Luke Hartwell’s life is a mosaic of basketball influences. From his father, Gordon Hartwell, he learned the fastbreak. From Sean Watson, his middle school coach, Hartwell learned full court pressure and zone defense. From Dwight Littlefield, his high school coach, Hartwell learned the X’s and O’s, and how to scout an opponent.
From Jack Kaplan, his old strength and conditioning coach, Luke Hartwell learned how to be tough, physically and mentally.
“Mr. Kaplan said good luck is for people who aren’t prepared. I’ll never forget that,” Hartwell said. “He got us mentally prepared, as well as physically prepared. In circumstances like this, to never lose your focus and poise. That’s absolutely critical.”
When Valley trailed Hyde by 11 points late in the third quarter, Pelotte saw Hartwell as calm as a coach with a 20-point lead. That, Pelotte said, was Littlefield’s influence.
“We didn’t play in many close games, but when we did, and you looked over at the sidelines, you saw Coach Littlefield, how stoic he was. He was unfazed by anything going on on the court,” Pelotte said. “One of the biggest pieces Coach Littlefield did for us was instill that calmness and the ability to deal with the pressure.”
To coach the Cavaliers to the Western D title, Hartwell had to beat a pair of teams that beat Valley twice in the regular season. All four of Valley’s losses came to Forest Hills and Hyde. Forest Hills beat the Cavs by seven and eight points in the regular season. On Wednesday in the regional semifinals, Valley beat the Tigers by 10.
Hyde beat the Cavs by double digits twice in the regular season, by 23 points and 11. Hartwell studied the Phoenix. He knew he couldn’t match up with their size, so he matched up with Hyde’s speed. It worked. The Cavs, who improved as the season progressed, won.
“You know Hyde’s a very good team. You know they’re going to make runs. There’s a reason why they’re one of the best teams in (Class) D, and I think, C,” Hartwell said. “You just hope to execute, and have your guys as prepared as possible. Have the other team as scouted as best you can.”
The hardest part of coaching basketball is not being able to play, Hartwell said. In his old teammate, Pelotte saw a coach who makes it easy for his players to go at a high level.
“The thing I like about Luke is, he looks like he’s very positive on the sideline. There’s not a lot of negative energy coming from him,” Pelotte said.
Luke Hartwell the player was a 1,000 point scorer, a four-time state champion, and a success. Let’s hope Luke Hartwell the coach is just getting started.