Eric Copeland’s Medway roots run deep.
A native of Medway, he 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, the 44-year-old Franklin police detective still lives in town.
All those links to Medway are impressive, but it’s his 20 years of sub-varsity coaching experience that no doubt landed him in the driver’s seat when he interviewed for the Mustangs’ varsity boys’ basketball job. Copeland will succeed Jason Rojee, who stepped down to devote more time to his family. Rojee, however, will continue to coach the varsity girls’ soccer team.
Copeland coached the Medway frosh squad for three years, and he’s coached the jayvees on two separate occasions for a total of five seasons. He also spent 12 years in Franklin’s basketball program — six as a freshman coach, five as a varsity assistant and last year as the Panthers’ jayvee coach.
Taking the reins of a varsity program seems like a good fit for Copeland and for 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’ve influenced and sharpened his coaching acumen. He’s worked for Don Grimes and Rojee at Medway, and at Franklin he labored for Dean O’Connor and CJ Neely. His coach at Western New England, Brett Bishop, was also a plus.
“I played for Paul Carroll at Medway and he gave me my first coaching job,’’ Copeland recalled. “That was as Medway’s freshman coach in 1996, just after I got out of college. All the coaches I’ve worked for are top-notch. Dean O’Connor at Franklin taught me that time and commitment are the key ingredients for success, and Jason built a winning program at Medway by stressing fundamentals.’’
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.’’
Being in the trenches with five top-caliber coaches helped Copeland to develop some definite strengths. He ran practices, and he was part of planning sessions and scouting assignments. 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. Winning is the by-product of players taking a team-first approach to the game.’’
Copeland knows that competing in the TVL means “there’ll be no easy nights.’’ He views Norton and Dedham as strong squads in the small division and he sees Bellingham as an improved group. Dover-Sherborn and Millis are no cakewalks either, labeling them as “well-coached and hard-working.’’
Copeland will have five returnees who got their share of playing time last year. They include juniors Drew Plunkett (point guard), Kyle Regan (wing), and Ryan Johnston (forward), and seniors Jack Hadigan (center) and Tim Uzoegbu (forward). “These kids will be part of our nucleus, based on their play last year and their work in summer league,’’ Copeland said. “Our core group should be deep and well-rounded.’’
And, the new coach will have a pair of well-rounded assistants. Shane Jackson will be the varsity assistant and Steve Linehan is the jayvee coach.
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. “What I admired most about playing at Medway was the way our coaches treated us,’’ Copeland said. “Paul Carroll and Wes Truscott cared about all their players and they built positive relationships.’’
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 was a leader then and he’s ready to lead again — this time as a varsity coach. “We want our players to learn valuable life lessons from sports,’’ he said. “Like overcoming adversity and being respectful. Other good lessons are developing a strong work ethic, commitment, being a good teammate and setting goals. Family responsibility should also be in the mix.’’
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. The Eric Copeland era gets underway on Dec. 14 when the Mustangs host Norwood.
Eric Copeland’s Medway roots run deep.