New Forest Park coach looking to get defensive

Stephen Love is hoping to return the Forest Park boys' basketball team to its winning ways.

Stephen Love is hoping to return the Forest Park boys' basketball team to its winning ways.

FOREST PARK — New Forest Park boys basketball coach Stephen Love shouldn’t have to work too hard to get his players to buy in to him.

It seems like that’s already happened.

Love was introduced as the school’s new head basketball coach Tuesday afternoon, and it was the players who may have had a hand in influencing the decision.

“I found this out the other day, and it kind of took me by surprised, but the kids lobbied for me to be their coach,” Love said. “They took it upon themselves and wrote a letter to the administration telling them that I was the person they felt could help them become better players and to compete.”

Love is no stranger to the area, or the school. A native of Atlanta, Love returned to the area and spent last l season as an assistant on outgoing coach Antonio Wade’s staff.

Before coming to Forest Park, he served as an assistant coach at Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High.

Love retired from the Air Force in 2010 and will also serve as a JROTC instructor at Forest Park.

Love will have a rebuilding job in front of him as he takes the reigns of a program that has managed just two winning seasons, and two state tournament appearances in the last eight seasons.

Good news for Love is that he has some returning talent coming back who are already familiar with his style. The Panthers had just three seniors on last season’s 4-22 team.

And just two years removed from a strong showing in the Region 4-AAAA tournament and an appearance at state, Love said he is encouraged at the possibilities.

“I’m just excited to see the growth,” Love said. “I saw times last year where they lacked confidence. There was some huge skill development, but a character deficit. Kids not taking responsibility, quick to blame someone else. Work ethic was bad. One thing I made abundantly clear in the interview was before skill development can happen, character development must come first.”

Love said they would hit it hard in summer conditioning through June and shut it down for July before coming back “hot and heavy” in August to prepare for the season.

And if the preliminary workouts are any indication, Love said he’s already seeing some of his guys walking around with the extra spring in their step that renewed confidence brings.

“We’ve opened up the weight room and they’re already throwing the weight around wanting to get bigger and stronger,” he said. “They want to be good. We’re working well together, offering challenges and developing relationships. They want this.”

Love said he learned a lot from his year on the bench with Wade, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But his calling card is defense. He wants develop a “read and react, run and jump defense” that stays in attack mode.

Love said he wants to go after some of the success that has come to coach Steven Cole and the girls’ basketball squad which has been on the brink of a state title for the last three seasons.

He said he’s received nothing but support from Cole.

“Coach Cole has made himself available to me, along with his staff,” Love said. “They’ve been outstanding. I’m looking forward to simultaneously hanging some championship banners with him in Forest Park’s gym soon.”