It’s a hot Monday morning in June at David Evans Gymansium.
The banners stand out on both ends of the gym located at Holmes High School, the oldest public high school in Kentucky. On the floor, Bulldogs boys basketball head coach Tony Perkins and his assistants commend the returning players on how much they’ve improved since Perkins took the job in May.
A lot of magic has happened over the years on that floor.
The last two Kentucky state champion boys basketball teams, George Rogers Clark in 2022 and Highlands in 2021, won their regional titles there before moving on to conquer Rupp Arena in Lexington.
Holmes’s storied basketball program has also made the school’s fieldhouse legendary in a state that worships the game.
The Bulldogs have won 15 regional crowns in school history and a state championship in 2009.
They last regional title came in 2013.
But the program has struggled in recent years and Holmes hasn’t even made it out of the 35th District in the post-season since 2015. The Bulldogs have suffered through six consecutive losing seasons.
Holmes finished 11-17 last year.
Coach Perkins said a culture change is needed for things to turn around.
“You need to set high expectations. My job is to make sure you’re a good person,” Perkins said. “You go to class. I know people say, ‘No. Your job is to win games.’ It is to win games. But I can’t do that with people that are not willing to do what they need to do to be successful. That means in the classroom. I don’t want them to be limited by what they did in high school when they get out of school.”
Holmes graduated its top scorer from last year – Quantez Calloway who averaged 29.8 points per game – along with five other seniors.
Perkins has been a head coach at Holmes before. He led the girls basketball program from 2013 to 2017, compiling a 106-23 record, and winning regional titles in 2016 and 2017. The girls team advanced to the state semifinals in 2017.
“When I first started coaching girls up here, people started talking about crowds. I said, ‘Get better and people will come watch you play.’ That’s what you need to do,” Perkins said. “I want the whole community to be proud of our kids as far as the way they act, the way they are in school, what kind of people they are and how hard they play on the floor. Wins will come if you do the other things that go along with it.
“It may take a while. That’s always been the case.”
But the 1978 East Hardin graduate will tell you the girls team’s 3.75 grade-point average is the proudest moment from that time. Perkins said several of those players graduated from college and one started a business.
“Those areas are intertwined,” said Holmes Athletics Director Ken Ellis in the announcement of Perkins’s hiring last month. “It’s important that our athletes recognize that Perkins cares about them, their academics and their lives.”
Perkins said a big focus in the off-season has been getting the boys in shape to play an up-tempo style of basketball. He admitted the Bulldogs are not a big team.
“Some people are not going as hard as they think they’re going,” Perkins said. “The good teams won’t let you get open going three-quarters speed.”
The plan also includes full and half-court man-to-man pressure defense mixed with zone pressure. Perkins wants turnovers to lead to transition lay-ups.
“I’ve never really coached where we didn’t put pressure on people,” Perkins said. “I think kids want to play that way.”
One returning player with a lot of varsity experience is senior Adam Boone. Perkins said he also sees a lot of potential in a number of players such as sophomore Owen Crank.
“We were very excited. I think we have a good coach,” Boone said of Perkins taking the job. “He’ll play a lot of guys. He doesn’t care if you’re an upperclassmen or an underclassmen. He’ll play the best he can play. We’re just happy to play for him.”
Perkins has three assistants on the staff so far in Austin Neff, Braeon Avery and his son, Tyler Perkins. Tyler Perkins had been an assistant for the Highlands boys in recent years.
Perkins is aware of the challenges in the 35th District with Covington Catholic and Holy Cross, and in the 9th Region against the likes of Highlands, Cooper and Dixie Heights. Perkins, who will work at Holmes High School next year, said playing good teams helps you figure out which areas of the game need work.
“There are good teams up here and a lot of different places,” Perkins said. “The thing is it’s like Tiger Woods golfing. You get a guy that’s pretty good, it makes other people get better. If you’re going to be competitive, you have to do what you need to do to get better. There’s only one way to get better. Get out there and work at it. I’ve always wanted to play good teams. You don’t get better by playing teams you can beat all the time.”