Being able to coach at your alma mater for any coach at any program at any level has to be a special thing to do.
To become the program’s all-time wins leader? Now that is storybook stuff.
Aric Russell became the winningest coach in Campbell County boys’ basketball history on Thursday night with a 68-49 victory over Lloyd Memorial. Russell earned his 272nd win with the program in his 400th game with the Camels, passing a long-standing record set by L.E. Woolum in the 1940’s.
His phone was constantly hitting the bell sound with a mass amount of congratulatory texts coming through during the postgame interview.
For as many lives that Russell has touched as a leader of the Camels program, his phone is still probably going off.
“I’m just relieved,” Russell said with a smile, something you don’t often see from the normally stoic head coach.
His track record speaks for itself since he arrived in Claryville in 2010 from Newport. A 272-128 record, a Final Four appearance, four 10th Region titles and 10 district titles. The victory on Thursday was his 447th overall, approaching the NKY all-time wins leaders Ken Shields with 460.
“It’s just special because I look back on all the kids that we’ve had here and the different teams and the success we’ve had. It’s fun to look back on and you got to be proud how we built this up. Coach Gross and myself came in, changed everything up and obviously you have to have good kids to buy in. The result is you win some games and I’m just blessed to be here and be able to coach these kids,” Russell said.
Russell has laid the foundation for the Camels and built the program from the ground up. It’s a true program, kids in the system growing up in their feeder system and not benfiting from much help on the outside in terms of transfers.
“I always say I feel like we’re kind of a dying breed the way we do things, it just doesn’t get done that way anymore. And we have to do it that way. In order to stay competitive we have to build up and build within and get our kids buying into our system because that’s the only way we’re gonna be able to compete with some of these teams,” Russell said. “Even when we went to the Final Four, our best player is playing at Thomas More (Reid Jolly), which is really good school, and he’s doing awesome, but I didn’t have any D-1 players and we went quite a far way. Matt (Wilson) was D-1 at Army, just have good kids that buy in and good coaches to help you out and a little help from the Lord above and that’s what we got.”
Since 2014, the Camels are pretty much the standard when it comes to the 10th Region. With the four region titles during that span, three other close calls when they lost at the buzzer, twice in the region championship game in 2017 and 2021, and one other time in the first round in 2016.
In order to get there, throughout the season they don’t shy away from anybody.
“We played such a hard schedule night in, night out, you just don’t know. That makes the record even more special because we play good teams at all times,” Russell said.
Russell’s built the program his way and his players have bought in.
“Just be a good person. Every time before we hit the floor in the locker room, we pray, make sure the Lord is with us. But most importantly, he’s taught us to be good men. Outside of basketball, he makes sure to teach us lessons. Be good men, show sportsmanship and all that good stuff,” Camels guard Aydan Hamilton said.
Hamilton easily could have not came back out and played his senior season this year, already locked into a Division I baseball scholarship with the University of Kentucky, but the head man in charge made the decision easy for him.
“He’s a great guy overall. Inspiration is the word. He inspires us to push as hard in practice. It’s a good accomplishment for us to get for him,” Hamilton added.
Hamilton finished with a team-high 21 points in Thursday’s victory as they ran away with things in the second half on a talented Lloyd Memorial team that features two Division I players in Northern Kentucky University commit Jeremiah Israel and highly touted sophomore EJ Walker.
The Camels sit at 10-7 on the season now and despite the promising play as of late that included a close loss to Mason County on Tuesday night, Russell knows there’s still work to do.
“Night in, night out, as long as we’re in those games and getting better than that’s all I care about because hopefully I don’t want to be peaking yet. We want to peak at the right time and get us clicking on all cylinders and I saw glimpses of it tonight. I also saw stuff we can improve on, but we are starting to turn the corner a little bit,” Russell said.
That’s been the staple of Russell’s teams, you may not see their best product in December or January, but come February and into March, they’re playing their best ball.
Just look at the track record, it speaks for itself.
Russell knows he’s blessed getting to coach where he grew up playing and graduating from and on Thursday he’ll get to do what he’s done after home games for 13 years when they’re played at the high school. Make the short drive back home.
“Played my high school career here so it means a lot to do it at my alma mater. Live right up the hill a minute away so I’m in the community. I feel like it was an advantage for me knowing these kids and what they think because I was one of them. God blessed me with this opportunity to coach here after a lot of years at Newport. So I just feel very blessed that that he gave me an opportunity to be here and have this much success. This is my 25th year total doing this. That’s a long time to be doing something. To be able to do this that long it’s really hard to fathom. You just don’t think you’ll do it that long, it’s a grind,” Russell said.
The Camels return to action on Friday when they host Harrison County at 7:30 p.m.
After Hamilton’s 21, Jake Gross scored 14 second half points to end up with 16 points, Jaiden Combs adding 13.
Walker led the Juggernauts with 17 points as they dropped to 7-5 on the season. Israel added 16, no one else with more than five. Lloyd plays at Scott on Friday.