The school’s official name is Vanguard College Preparatory School. So, does that make Baylor University the Vanguard Coaching Preparatory Institute?
The head boys’ basketball coach at Vanguard is Stephen Brough, who worked for six seasons as an assistant under Scott Drew at Baylor. The coach that preceded Brough at Vanguard was Mark Morefield, another Drew protege.
Brough’s top assistant coach is Fred Ellis, a former Baylor forward, while ex-BU big man Mamadou “the Mayor” Diene coached Vanguard’s junior high team for several seasons before moving on last year.
So, what is it about this hill-spanning, small private school off Mount Carmel Road in Waco that makes it such a popular landing spot for Bears? Why has the school’s dusty bandbox of a gym — with a throwback court that wouldn’t feel out of place in Hoosiers — been transformed into Ferrell Center West?
It’s pretty simple. For someone who loves Waco and has a passion for teaching the game of basketball, it’s an ideal place to work, Brough said.
He coached as an assistant Division I Missouri-Kansas City for four years after leaving Baylor in 2009. But in 2014, UMKC made a coaching change and Brough was looking for work when he got a call from Morefield.
“Our staff didn’t win enough games and I found myself looking at opportunities, and that’s when Morph came over here,” said Brough, who has 16 years of Division I coaching experience. “He said, ‘Hey, you got anything coaching-wise?’ I said, ‘No, not yet.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m going to go take the head coaching job at Vanguard, I know you love Texas, you loved Waco, why don’t you come back?’ Well, you don’t have to ask me twice.”
Brough spent a year as Morefield’s right-hand man before ascending to the head job for the 2015-16 season after Morefield moved on to the Mary Hardin-Baylor women. He didn’t necessarily know it when he took the job, but what Brough has discovered at Vanguard is a team of “basketball-first” guys who aren’t allergic to elbow grease.
“I love our guys. Yes, they’re good kids, but they’re also intrinsically-motivated,” Brough said. “They’re highly-motivated guys, hard-working guys. The coaching staff doesn’t have to set goals around here, they set goals and we all chase them together.”
They may work hard, but Vanguard’s players know how lucky they are. Senior guard Hudson Bradley said he used to playfully tease friends who attend other schools in Waco that his middle school coach (Diene) was a seven-foot former all-Big 12 defender.
“I looked up to Mamadou and Fred Ellis, I watched them play at Baylor,” Bradley said. “They were my friends on Facebook in the sixth grade. I thought they were awesome.”
But it’s more than just a cool, star-power appeal for the Vikings. They appreciate that they have the opportunity to learn from coaches with such upper-echelon experience.
“For sure, Fred and Mamadou and Coach Brough, they’re all really insightful,” senior guard Davis Boehm said. “They’ve been around a long time and they know a lot about basketball. It’s awesome to get to be coached by these guys and get to learn from them.”
Several players said they’ve gained confidence and a better grasp of the mental side of the game as a result of the coaching staff’s lessons. And those study sessions aren’t dumbed-down, Cliffs notes-versions, either. Brough said he runs Vanguard’s practices in much the same manner as a college practice, with players working on the same type of skills and going through identical drills.
Maybe his guards aren’t 6-foot-5 and perhaps everyone isn’t dunking in the layup line, but it wouldn’t be fair to short-change the players just because they’re in high school, Brough said.
“At each of those (Division I) levels, you had people of different sizes, different shapes, different athletic abilities, different skill sets,” said Brough, who also had a stint as a women’s assistant at Miami of Ohio. “One of the things that I kind of took from that is that it’s all basketball, going back to the Hoosiers thing, it’s 94 feet and 10 feet tall.
“So I’d seen so many different combinations within the same game before, it kind of taught me, don’t worry so much about what they can do and what they can’t do. Figure out how to get them to where they want to go, because they’re all different.”
Where Vanguard aims to go every year is the TAPPS state tournament. The boys basketball program carries a long standard of excellence, with three past trips to the state tourney. But they’re still seeking the program’s first state title.
Could that change this year? Quite possibly. Brough regularly uses a 10-man rotation, and seven different Vikings have scored 15 points or more in a game this season. The Vikings — who sport a No. 2 state ranking, a 25-7 overall record and a 7-0 district mark entering Friday’s nondistrict clash with Rapoport Academy — are battle-tested after earlier games against bigger UIL schools like University, Connally and Waco High.
Brough said he’s rarely coached a team so unselfish. If anything, they can sometimes fall into the trap of over-passing, the coach said, but he’d rather have a team like that than one where everybody is consumed with filling up their own stat sheet.
“I feel like this year, this team is a group of guys who just click together,” junior post George Eichenberg said. “We’re all really good friends. There’s not just one player on the team who’s a hotshot or anything or think that they should take all the shots. Everyone has this team-first mentality that allows us to be successful.”
At Vanguard’s practice Thursday, the varsity players ran through various drills under the supervision of Brough and a couple of other assistants in the auxiliary gym while Ellis worked with the JV players in the main gym. It was a pretty sweet setup that could draw the envy of many a team around the state.
“It’s definitely a luxury, getting the college-level experience,” junior guard Spencer Davis said. “That’s not something you find every day in TAPPS 4A basketball.”