Of all the Eastern Kentucky men’s basketball personalities who have transformed the Colonels’ locker room at Alumni Coliseum into Scott County South, nobody got into coach A.W. Hamilton’s pipeline any earlier than Blake Harris.
“He’s been a father figure to me ever since I went to his first camp when I was five or six,” Harris recalled. “I went to every single camp after that, and after I got too old I still kept going and would offer to help out any way I could.”
Harris remained an adopted member of Hamilton’s family even after the coach’s meteoric rise in the profession led him to Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia and North Carolina State University. When he came home to take the top job at EKU, Hamilton said Harris’ signing as a freshman manager was “part of my deal.”
Now halfway through that college experience, the understudy has seen that long-time relationship with his mentor pay huge dividends, ones he’s earned on his own merits.
Harris was recently promoted to head manager for the Colonels, whose circle includes no fewer than five SCHS graduates.
“It’s been a fun ride. I know my responsibilities are about to get a lot bigger,” said Harris, a sport management major with a minor in finance.. “Whatever A.W. needs on game day, from coffee to making sure he has his board and he’s ready to go, that’s what I do.”
He will lead a team of 12 managers, including SC product Ryan Gumm, serving Hamilton and a talented roster that features former Cardinals’ stars Michael Moreno and Cooper Robb.
Already in line to earn the promotion after the Colonels reached the semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament this past winter, Harris likely sealed the deal with the way he approached the unexpected lull due to COVID-19 this spring.
In a time when it would have been easy for coaches, players and assistants alike to become complacent, Harris remained aggressive on his learning curve.
He sought out opportunities to grow during the down time, employing everything from Zoom conferences with other coaches around the country, to online courses in Photoshop, which the team uses heavily for publicity and recruiting purposes.
“I’m so proud of him. You can see how popular he already is around the country from the way so many different people congratulated him when this news got out,” Hamilton said. “He’s got a special gift of being able to communicate with everyone that will serve him well as he moves forward in this business.”
Harris said part of the challenge is keeping up with his coach, whom he described as having “the most energy of any 39-year-old I’ve ever known.”
Like Hamilton, who moved into coaching immediately after his playing days at Wake Forest and Marshall ended, Harris’ goal is to make a career out of it.
“If I’m not a Division I head coach, I want to be the highest paid assistant coach in the country, “ he said.
College playing experience is hardly a prerequisite to coaching. Chris Briggs, winner of two national titles at Georgetown College, was a student manager at UK. Hamilton has encouraged Harris to use EKU assistant Patrick Blake, a former head manager at Louisville, as a model.
“Probably the next goal for him is to become a graduate assistant with us, and then work his way up to becoming a full-time assistant,” Hamilton said. “That’s a great path for him. There are many different paths to get there.
“I admire his desire to put himself in position. He’s a very humble person. The first thing he asked me was, ‘What do I have to do these next two years to get to that next level?’ He’s a smart kid. You can see how he wants to learn. I’ll probably be working for him one day.”
In addition to EKU’s rapid improvement in Hamilton’s first two seasons, the distinct Scott County flavor makes Harris’ labor of love that much more fun.
“Oh, we talk about it every day.,” Harris said. “There are some guys from Madison Central. I believe they won a state championship in 2013, but as far as the years we were all in high school, they don’t have anything to talk about.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.