Procopios, son and father, make progress at Jackson-Milton

Tribune Chronicle / Eric Murray The Procopios, son Stephen, right, and father Sam, left, have the Jackson-Milton boys basketball program on the right track. Stephen is in his first year as head coach.

NORTH JACKSON — A new presence has graced the sidelines at Jackson-Milton boys basketball games this year, and that presence is already making a world of difference.

That presence, first-year Blue Jays coach Stephen Procopio, inherited a team that went 0-23 a year ago, and already he’s guided them to a 4-6 record.

However, the story doesn’t stop there as Stephen is joined by his father, Sam, on the staff. The two coached together as assistants at John F. Kennedy (Stephen’s alma mater) for the last four years, before the opportunity came about to take the head job at Jackson-Milton.

“I wouldn’t have coached without him,” Stephen said of his dad. “He was my coach back in the day, all growing up he was my coach. To have the opportunity to coach with him, there’s nothing better. We’re having a blast.”

Sam has bounced around as an assistant coach at a number of places over the years, including 10 years at Kennedy and a stop at Howland. He says that when Stephen approached him to come to Jackson-Milton, he said there was no way he could say no to his son.

In fact, coaching Stephen in his younger years, Sam could see the passion and love that his son had for the game.

“He has always had a passion for this game. When he was playing at JFK, I was coaching,” Sam said.

“We would literally go to the gym at 4:30, and he would literally get in his practice stuff and we would work on all the post moves he wanted to work on, all of his shots that he wanted to work on. He would be in full sweat before the JVs even got to the gym, and he’s playing varsity. But yeah, he’s had a passion for the game, he wants to work hard, he wants to work hard now at this level, because his playing days are over. He’s seeing some benefits.”

Those benefits, such as the aforementioned 4-6 start to the season, have come in a stretch to start the season that included only two homes games. The Blue Jays recently scored an important win over a potent Lisbon squad, and then followed that up by keeping undefeated McDonald on the ropes for most of the game.

The turnaround, according to Stephen, is from the “small stuff” that his dad taught him when he was still playing for Sam.

“He’d always tell me, ‘Hey, all the little things you can do — rebound, protect the basketball, make your free throws.’ Those are three big things I took from him as a kid and I’m going to take those into my days of coaching,” Stephen said. “Those are three keys that we believe are keys to success.”

The turnaround has also led to a newfound enthusiasm in town, as more players are looking to sign up next year, and experience some of the Procopios’ winning formula.

According to Sam, he’s just along for the ride, as he insists that he doesn’t get in the way of Stephen’s coaching. Thus far, Sam says he’s impressed with his son’s performance, and he sees the tremendous improvement from the Blue Jay players in practice everyday.

As for Stephen, being a first-year head coach isn’t easy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s been much different,” he said, laughing. “It’s a lot more stress, but it all comes with the job.

“Being an assistant coach, you show up to practice, coach the kids and you go home. Being the head coach, show up to practice, you put a game plan together every week, you put a practice schedule together every week. You’re dealing with your athletic director on different issues, scheduling. It’s definitely been a big change for me, but a change I’ve embraced and really enjoy.”

For the Blue Jays basketball program, the change to Stephen Procopio is likely one they’re glad to have made, as well.