By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
In the coaching profession, it sometimes gets extraordinarily difficult to make time for family. Whether it's long hours practicing, traveling with the team or even just coaching the games, getting to see spouses and children is tough.
As John Pelphrey begins his era as the latest head men's basketball coach of the Tennessee Tech program, it won't be as difficult for him to see his children – they're going to be traveling to a lot of the same locations as his daughter Grace landed a spot on the Golden Eagle women's basketball team and his son Jaxson is one of the managers.
"The apple never falls far from the tree, and the people Jaxson and Grace have grown up to be speaks volumes about the lessons John and Tracy are teaching at home," said Tech women's basketball head coach Kim Rosamond. "Jaxson and Grace are two of the kindest, most genuine young people you could ever hope to meet. The roots are strong in that family, and it has been a joy to have Grace join our team."
Much is made about how Cookeville and Tennessee Tech feels like home for so many people. For a basketball-driven family like the Pelphreys, that certainly is the case.
"That has been talked about so much and that was one of the biggest takeaways from the recruiting process," Pelphrey said. "You talk to former players and they say how much they love the place. You see so many people who have been in Cookeville and have no intention of ever leaving.
"You meet former student-athletes on the staff, such as (director of compliance) Mandy Thatcher, who came here as a volleyball student-athlete and never left. She loved it so much that even her parents moved down here. There's a lot of people who care about what happens in Cookeville, what goes on at Tennessee Tech, and that gave me enough confidence to move my family here and turn this into a place we can live."
With Grace on the Tech women's team, it creates a tremendous opportunity for Pelphrey as a father.
"It's certainly something I don't take for granted," Coach Pelphrey said. "We experienced this a little bit at Alabama already, but even at Tech it's gone a step farther because where my office is and where they practice, I can literally turn around and see what's going on. It's at a whole other level and it's, honestly, kind of cool."
Grace played four games for the Crimson Tide last season, and with the transition to Tech, has earned her way onto the Golden Eagle roster.
"We're very appreciative of the opportunity that Kristy Curry gave Grace at Alabama and it was a wonderful experience," the elder Pelphrey said. "This has been even better. Grace has really identified with the team, Kim and her staff.
"For me, part of my recruiting process, I had a chance to meet with Kim and (football head coach Dewayne) Alexander. To listen to these guys talk about their approach to recruiting student-athletes, their experiences at Tennessee Tech, I thought, as a parent, I would like for my child to be led by somebody like that. I spoke to Kim about her and she said, 'Let me speak to her first.'"
He continued, "That's exactly the same way I would have done it – I definitely wouldn't have promised anybody anything. I want to sit down and talk, try to figure them out. I just have total respect for how she handles business and her approach to it, how protective she is of her team's culture and being deliberate on who they bring in. As a parent, Tracy and I couldn't be more excited about who she has a chance to be around, who's mentoring her, who's building her up as a young lady."
With the work ethic Grace has shown, Rosamond couldn't be happier to have her on the Golden Eagles.
"From day one, Grace came into our program not only expecting but working to earn any opportunity that comes her way," Rosamond said. "Grace understands the value of hard work. She is constantly in the gym working on her game as well as striving to make both herself and her teammates better.
"Grace is very strong and versatile with the ability to stretch the defense with her shot along with her toughness to go rebound the basketball. She is blue collar and just comes to out-work you every day. It will be fun to watch her grow this season as she learns and gets comfortable within our system."
Now, as Grace has seen some action on the court in exhibition play, she's starting to figure out just where she fits in with the Tech women's team and has made the transition a smooth one.
"It's been really great," she said. "People here are just really kind and accepting. I've also got a great bunch of teammates."
It's a testament to the caliber of players Rosamond has brought into the Tennessee Tech women's basketball program as they have really accepted Pelphrey into their family.
"It was so refreshing," she said. "Here, everyone has been so friendly and open. The whole family atmosphere, I really see that just about every day. Our teammates all love each other. There's never any drama. We all really just get along like a family.
"That's been the best part. With the atmosphere and the culture that Coach Rosamond has created, it has taught me so much, such as building character and focusing on how to carry ourselves. Playing for Coach Rosamond has been phenomenal – she's all about the right things and she loves the game so much. I love playing for her."
Her new mentor and teammates also think the world of her.
"Grace is one of the hardest workers," said Jordan Brock. "She's going at it 24/7. She comes in and does exactly what you ask her to. She's always in the gym putting in the hours, and that's all we can ask for in a teammate. I think she's handled the transition very well. She's great to talk to. I know it's tough to get used to a whole new set of teammates, but we love her."
Rosamond added, "She has just fit right in. First of all, Grace is a culture kid. Being a coach's kid and being around the game, the teams and coaches her dad has been around, I think she gets it. She understands what it means to be a good teammate, as well as the work ethic that it takes."
Spending time in Cookeville and Tech, Grace has gained a new family – one that is adorned in purple and gold.
"In a very short time, she has become a favorite in the locker room," Rosamond said. "Grace has a special gift to be able to blend with any circle. She has a servant's heart and is always looking for ways to invest in and lift up others.
"She spent her first summer in Cookeville not only adjusting herself but always watching out for her freshman teammates. If there was ever a weekend or a day as freshman teammates was struggling, Grace would be the first one to invite them to her home. There is a kindness and selflessness and selflessness to Grace that draws people to her, and she exemplifies all the core values we preach daily in our program."
Coming into a tradition-rich program hasn't been lost on Grace.
"I have heard so much about the history and tradition here," she said. "Even from the first time I came in here, you see the environment. Character was highly emphasized. You don't really see that a lot, so to see that emphasized here, I can't help but love it."
When her dad was introduced as Tech's newest men's basketball coach in the spring, suiting up for the same university wasn't even a thought.
"At first, not at all," Grace said. "I thought I was going to stay and finish out there, but, at the last moment, I decided my best option was to come here and be around my family. A lot of my friends had gone off to college elsewhere, so I didn't really know a lot of people outside of my teammates. Now, with my family gone too, I thought, 'What do you truly value the most?' I talked to my coaches about it and they said, in life, you should always try to stay close to your family as much as possible."
Being able to see her dad has also been a bonus for her.
"It's great because when I see him I can ask what I need to do to get better," she said. "It's almost like I have another coach. It's fun, I like it."
The way the Ohio Valley Conference schedules its men's and women's basketball games also presents a great opportunity as a parent – he can watch his daughter's games as they are typically the front end of a doubleheader before his team takes to the court.
"So many blessings, so many unbelievable things. My faith is very important to me and I really think this isn't by accident or coincidence. One of the greatest challenges as a parent when you are in a coaching position – and because Tracy has been so invested in my career – is when you're coaching a game one night and Grace plays somewhere else. We don't have that issue here, because we're basically playing hand-in-hand the entire season to a large degree.
"That's really cool for both of us, because that will give us a chance to watch and encourage, be fans and support her and the team. That wasn't the case last year at Alabama because the schedule didn't work that way."
To uproot everything certainly isn't easy to do, but the Pelphrey kids wanted to be a part of what was going on here in Cookeville.
"Grace, Jaxson – they both left opportunities at Alabama," Coach Pelphrey said. "Jaxson was the head manager there for over three months, and that's a wonderful position to be in for a young man and to be voted into that position. (Alabama head coach) Nate Oats was kind and generous to allow him to stay. But it's also very humbling as a father.
"My wife has really embraced my career and made it part of hers. We've tried to chase this thing with leadership in college basketball for a while, but now my kids are a part of it as well. As a dad, as the leader of the household, it's very humbling to see how invested they are in the family, how invested they are in me, as well as wanting to be a part of Cookeville, a part of Tennessee Tech and everything that entails."
Photos by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information