Booth was right on track for Panthers hoop job

Staff photo by TOM KING Doug Booth gave trading coaching track for coaching girls basketball last spring two thumbs up as he's now guiding the Nashua South girls basketball team.

NASHUA – The reaction last spring was the same:

Huh?

Yes, it was a head scratcher when Doug Booth was named the new Nashua High School South girls basketball coach back in May.

Not because Booth wasn’t a good coach, mind you. He’s drawn rave reviews as an indoor-outdoor track coach at South and in the area in general for several years.

So what was a track guy doing pulling a switcharoo – going for, and getting, the Panthers girls hoop position?

“The track guy has been basketball-track his entire life,” Booth said with a grin. “The opportunity became available, I had good, strong coaching (in place) still with track, so it allowed me to make that jump.”

Booth has coached at the junior high level, and coached in the Nashua Park-Recreation girls leagues for several years, mainly senior biddy. He also coached junior high hoop girls in Louisiana.

So why not?

“In track, I was the boys coach,” Booth said. “So not only were the ladies surprised, but some of the other coaches were saying, ‘Whoa, what is this switch all of a sudden?

“I’m still interested in track, but I’ve always been interested in basketball as well.”

And that’s the thing. Booth had had the idea in the past, talking to his daughter, Kelly, who is a basketball coach in Fremont, about whether he’d take a hoop job if one came open.

Presto – one did.

“I had a quick conversation with my wife,” Booth said, “and it took us about two minutes to say, ‘Yeah, take the basketball job.'”

Booth, a retired air traffic controller, has coached track or the last six years. He was initially hired as the high jump coach, “and in the past six years we’ve had nine high jump champions.”

With track, it’s a lot of individual, one-on-one coaching. In basketball, it’s more of a group thing, and Booth is certainly able to make that adjustment.

“I think in basketball, it’s the athletes buying into the team concept,” he said, “and getting them to play as one. An assist is just as important as making the 3-pointer or two-point shot. I think that’s the big thing.

“And so far, with the group I’m working with, I’ve been very fortunate. They love working with each other. The team that’s been given to me, I’m so fortunate. We have some experience. We only have two seniors, so we’re still young, but we have some experience still.”

Yes, the Panthers a year ago under interim coach Dave Hogan made big strides in making the Division I tournament with a 7-11 mark before falling to eventual three-time champion Bishop Guertin in the opening round. When Booth first met with his players last spring, he talked about goals.

“I didn’t tell them a whole lot about me,” Booth said. “I knew a few of them from track. I wanted to let them know I’m a goal-oriented coach, not just individually, but as a team.”

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Booth played high school ball growing up in Michigan, but didn’t play college as he went right into the Air Force and played on base teams. His daughter, Kelly Booth, is a coach in Fremont.

Remember, coaching is nothing new to Booth.

“I don’t think it’s been much of a challenge,” he said. “Of course, I’d been coaching track with daily practices. And again, I’ve got a real good group of girls. They’re very willing to learn, very respectful. That hasn’t been a problem.”

What are they going to learn under Booth?

“The saying is defense wins championships,” Booth said. “So I hope we’re a defensive team. I would like to be a disciplined team, where we don’t hurry down unless we have something to hurry down for. I want us to take care of the ball.”

And Booth now has to take care of the Panthers program. It’s now his baby, as he’s laying the groundwork for a program with his stamp on it. He’s in this for the long haul.

“It’s not a one-year thing,” he said. “We’ve already talked about reaching out to the middle schools, reaching out to the biddy program. In the biddy program, the numbers are way down in the rec league.

“What I’m hoping for, as I talk to the lower levels, that we get the interest back in girls basketball. I think one of the things will be if we have a successful program here.”

Booth knows the history. Heck, last year’s coach, Hogan, had coached the unified Nashua team to one of its many championships over a decade ago before the split.

“The only way we get back to that, I think, is if we start young and keep that interest all the way up into the varsity level.”

Booth will go back to coaching spring track as the Panthers boys head coach.

But for now, he’s a basketball guy.

“I love both sports,” he said. “But the thing is I want other people to love those sports as much as I do. …

“I’m having a great time so far. And I’m expecting to have a great time this year.”

Yes, track can definitely wait a few months.