Franklin Played Big Role in Copeland Landing Medway Hoop Job

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
New Medway Coach and 18-year Franklin Police Dept. veteran Eric Copeland hasn’t coached a varsity game yet, but chances are good that Medway High’s basketball program will continue to be formidable and successful.
Issue Date: 
October, 2018
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Eric Copeland’s roots run deep in Medway but the 44-year-old Franklin police detective, who’s been selected as Medway High’s new boys’ basketball coach, will always remember the significant role a pair of Franklin High coaches played in sharpening his technique and preparing him for a head-coaching position.
Former Franklin High coach Dean O’Connor and the Panthers’ current coach, CJ Neely, both had Copeland on their staffs, and for 12 years, he worked as a freshman coach, a varsity assistant and last year as the Panthers’ jayvee coach.
Copeland, who also has been a freshman and jayvee coach at Medway, hasn’t forgotten how much O’Connor and Neely influenced his philosophy and coaching style.
“I learned a lot about preparation and practice planning from Dean,’’ Copeland said. “He allowed me to give a lot of input during practice planning stages and would always explain what he was thinking and what benefit he expected the team to get from it.’’
Copeland truly appreciated the opportunity he got to coach for Neely, whose last two seasons ended with appearances in the Division 1 state finals.
“CJ puts in an incredible amount of time in preparation for every aspect of the program,’’ Copeland noted. “His opponent preparation is what I found to be most impressive. The amount of film review and live scouting was certainly a huge part of our post-season success last year. Both Dean and CJ have a great ability to connect on a personal level with the kids they coach, not just with the X’s and O’s.’’
Neely is quick to credit Medway for hiring Copeland and is very effusive in lauding the Mustangs’ new coach.
“Eric is one of the most dedicated, loyal and passionate guys I have ever worked with,’’ Neely said. “He never shies away from the hardest parts of the job and has a unique way of connecting with young people. He has high expectations of his players, especially in regard to their effort and attitude. He has a way of making the game fun while helping kids learn how to become better people. Medway got a great coach and is fortunate to have a former Mustang who lives in town and knows what it takes to be successful at Medway High and in the Tri Valley League. I’m so happy for Eric on this well-deserved selection.’’
Copeland played basketball and soccer at Medway High, graduated in 1992, then returned to coach freshman and jayvee basketball for the Mustangs after earning his degree in criminal justice at Western New England College in Springfield. Married and the father of three, he still lives in town with his wife and three children.
After 20 years of sub-varsity coaching experience, Copeland will succeed Jason Rojee, who stepped down to devote more time to his family.
Copeland coached the Medway frosh squad for three years, and he’s coached the jayvees on two separate occasions. Taking the reins of a varsity program seems like a good fit for both Copeland and Medway High. When he last coached the jayvees at Medway (2014-2017), his teams experienced three winning seasons, one of which was an undefeated campaign.
“I’ve learned a lot from some terrific coaches,’’ Copeland said. “It’s not all about winning when coaching freshmen and jayvees — it’s about developing talent. I strived to develop kids to be a positive part of a program’s philosophy. As a sub-varsity coach, it’s important to get players to buy into a team-first concept and to build positive relationships.’’
Copeland has had some top-notch mentors who sharpened his coaching acumen. Besides Neely and O’Connor, he worked for Don Grimes and Rojee at Medway and he played for Brett Bishop, his coach at Western New England, whom he regards as a plus.
“Copeland also has a solid grip on other aspects that lead to winning. “My goals are for our program to be respected for our work ethic and the type of kids we have,’’ he said. “I also want to build a strong relationship with the youth program in town. Competing for the Tri Valley League Small Division title is another objective along with qualifying for the tourney.’’
Copeland’s teams will have a specific on-court style that will stress defense. “We’ll take pride in our ability to defend,’’ he emphasized. “I also like to fast-break and be up-tempo on offense. We’ll attack the basket and be sound in our shot selection.’’
Some of his strengths include preparation, organization, employing strategy and having a sharp basketball IQ.
“My coaching philosophy is about building positive relationships, helping players reach their potential and enjoying their athletic experience,’’ Copeland noted. “If those things occur, then winning will follow.’’
When Copeland played at Medway, he earned TVL all-star honors as a senior in basketball, and he competed as a midfielder in soccer, playing on the 1991 state championship team. He was a captain in both sports. At Western New England College, Copeland played four years of varsity basketball, starting for 2½ years at point guard. He was a captain twice for the Golden Bears.
Copeland, who’s an 18-year veteran of the Franklin Police Department, was a leader then and he’s ready to lead again — this time as a varsity coach.
The Eric Copeland era gets underway on Dec. 14 when the Mustangs host Norwood.
And, it no doubt will mirror some aspects of Franklin High’s rich style and tradition.