There are still a few question marks for the Lady Pointers basketball teams next season.
With Chris Bryant stepping down as head coach of the squad and moving over to administration, Randy Loyd and the Van Buren School District didn’t have to look too far to find someone to step in and take the role.
Michael Kinney, who has been with the school district for 23 years, was named the head coach last week. Kinney had been Bryant’s assistant for the past six seasons seemed like a natural choice for Van Buren.
“Michael being Chris’s assistant was the deciding factor for us,” said Loyd, who is also retiring at the end of the school year. “He’s learned a lot in the last six years and was very loyal to Chris. Michael is ready and we’re glad to have him as the new basketball coach.”
Kinney has filled in roles as needed for Van Buren over the past two decades. He’s been an assistant football coach covering seventh grade to high school. He was an assist boys basketball coach for grades seventh through ninth and covered the same grades for track. Kinney has also served as an assistant for girls basketball from seventh grade to high school.
“You don’t get too many coaches willing to do that, and Michael has done that for 23 years from middle school basketball and football to high school football,” Loyd said. “I believe all of that has prepared him for his next job.”
His journey to the high began when he came to the Freshman Academy for one season as his daughter, Jamilyn Kinney, was elevated to play for the ninth-grade squad as an eighth grader. Jamilyn made the early leap to high school basketball and dad, Michael, followed along, and got to help coach his daughter for five years.
And with each step, Michael Kinney took the role given him with a smile and a positive attitude.
“That’s the way it should be. You do whatever needs to be done and go on,” said Kinney. “Take on things with a positive attitude. That helps everyone around you, yourself included.”
Kinney graduated in 1990 from Van Buren High school was inspired by Quincy Coleman to become a coach.
“It was just the way he treated others and made people feel important. That was something I looked up to him,” said Kinney. “He was the first reason why I wanted to get into coaching.”
But the seed was planted years earlier by another coach.
“When I was standing the lunch line, Stan Flenor was at Van Buren and he comes over to me, ‘Mr. Kinney, what are your plans after high school?’ I’ll admit at the time I really didn’t know. He said ‘You need to be a basketball coach.’ That’s when it started.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak and taking precautions to slow the spread of the virus, schools have been shut down since before Spring Break. Spring sports were canceled. Spring drills for football were also upended along with some early practices for teams to get ready for next fall and winter, including basketball.
“We’re all doing well, we just can’t find a gym to work out or practice,” said Kinney. “Jamilyn has been going behind Northridge to the outdoor court to practice, but we’re ready to get back into the gym. We’ve been visiting on the computer and on the phone, but it’s just not the same as getting into the gym. So far everything seems great.”
Had Bryant remained the head coach the team would know what to expect for the next season, but with a new coach, things will be a little different. However, with Kinney, the team is already familiar with their new head coach.
“We’re going to continue in the same direction, but I want to be able to put my name on it,” said Kinney. “We’re still going to do some of the same offense and defense, but we’re going to try some things that I’ve been wanting to do.
“The girls won’t see much difference from me. The head coach is more vocal during the game and they will need to hear me in spots, and they’re going to hear a lot of me. You are who you are and that’s one of the things with ownership, they’re going to get the same character… the same demeanor.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is supposed to announce on Wednesday (today) if and when high school athletics can resume practices and perhaps give some guidelines for summer competition. However, it may be after June 1 before any sort of practice can start again.
The assistant coaching job hasn’t been filled yet, but Kinney is looking forward to continuing to work with the other basketball coaches in the district.
“When Chris was the head coach, anything we asked of the other coaches to do they were very receptive… from working on something in practice, a specific offense or defense,” said Kinney. “I can’t wait to get together with them as a staff. Some of the things we’ll do will be the same, some will be different. We’ll discuss it as a group, make sure we’re all on the same page, and have them help me with some of the things I would like to try.”
Van Buren will be in a new conference next season reuniting with familiar faces including Alma, Greenwood, Mountain Home, Vilonia, and Russellville.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to go out there and do the best we can, and let the chips fall where they may, and fight every night. If you do the best you can, you got a chance,” Kinney said. “We always want to play hard every night, install a love of the game, have fun, and continue the family-type atmosphere that we’ve had here at Van Buren.”