Lawrence Central Basketball Coach Al Gooden Reaches 500 Career Victories
Al Gooden, head coach of the Lawrence Central High School boys varsity basketball team, recently secured his 500th victory as a head coach – a major achievement in a coaching career that spans more than three decades.
He’s been at the helm of Lawrence Central’s varsity boys team since 2014, and win number 500 came on January 12, when the Bears defeated Decatur Central 58-38 in the first round of the Marion County tournament.
Be that as it may, Gooden would rather not focus on such milestones. He’s too busy grinding it out game after game, doing everything he can to make sure his players give everything they have out on the floor.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he says of win number 500. “At the end of the day, you still have to go out and compete, and the challenges are still there, no matter what you’ve done in the past or what achievements you’ve made. You’ve got to focus on what you’re doing now. That’s how I look at it.”
It’s an approach that has apparently worked considerably well for the Fort Wayne native and Wayne High School grad. Throughout his time coaching ball in the state of Indiana, Gooden has led his various squads to 10 sectional titles, six regional titles and a 2001 Class 2A state championship.
He was a successful player in his own right, having helped Wayne High School to its first sectional wins in 1976 and 1977. Gooden next played for Ball State in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and helped the team to their first NCAA Division I Tournament appearance in 1981 (he was formally inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame a decade later).
Gooden began coaching varsity basketball seven years later at Heritage High School. After two seasons at Heritage, be embarked on what would become a two-decade journey with Harding High School as head coach, during which he brought five teams to the state championship and won a Class 2A state title in 2001 (he brought Harding back to the state finals a year later).
Next came a three-year stint as coach at New Haven High School after Harding officially closed its doors, and Gooden was able to secure two sectional titles during those three years.
“I like to focus on all the fundamentals, but defense and rebounding I like to stress to the kids, because if you rebound and stick to tight defense, you’ll be in the fight by the end of any basketball game,” Gooden says of his coaching philosophy. “Regardless of if you’re playing pickup ball, alley ball, or a big championship game, those are things you have to learn to do.”
Gooden says the effects COVID-19 have had on the current season have been both negative and, in certain ways, unexpectedly positive.
“A good example is the Lawrence North-Lawrence Central basketball game, which is usually packed, and the crowd would have an effect on my young group – I have a young team with 10 sophomores,” says Gooden, who achieved Lawrence Central’s Coach of the Year status for the 2017-2018 academic year. “But not having so many people around gave them a chance to grow into their roles. We do miss the crowds though. It’s been challenging, but the kids have handled it pretty well. We’ve tried to stay isolated as much as we can, and the kids have been responsible with it.”
Gooden adds that his team’s few seniors have demonstrated much-needed leadership for an otherwise young Lawrence Central team this season.
“We have a young group, and Greg Jenkins has been a great leader with [Dameriz] Merriweather,” he says. “I think every team needs a few guys like that – guys who can take the younger kids under their wing a little bit, and talk and answer questions as teammates.”
As Gooden journeys on to work toward wins beyond number 500, he insists that working day by day, and game by game, is a helpful approach.
“Every year is different and every year is special,” he says. “Of course winning the state championship was special, and the group I had that went back to the championship game that next year was a great group. Each year is special to the kids you have, and this year, like any other, we’ve been rebuilding the program and the kids have learned a lot. They’re a good group.”
500 wins might sound like a lot, but Gooden says he’s not quite done with coaching yet.
“I’m still having fun coaching, teaching kids and helping them learn lessons, all of it,” he says. “I’ve got some more years in me.”