by Tim Altork
Xavier Calloway has had just a few stops in his young career as a basketball coach, but when he coaches the Handley boys basketball team for the first unofficial competition with that team, all of the stops of his high school coaching days will collide.
Calloway was named as Handley’s new boys head coach earlier this spring, replacing the spot filled by head football coach Larry Strain over the past two seasons.
In his previous two high school coaching jobs Calloway worked at LaFayette and then Pike Road.
On Wednesday, his first competition as Handley’s head coach will come against…Pike Road. At LaFayette.
“It’s at LaFayette. It’s their play date, and it just panned out to be that way,” Calloway said with a laugh Monday night.
The game at 2 p.m. at LaFayette Wednesday will be his very first chance to see what will be a new-look Handley team come this winter. The Tigers will have just one returning starter – rising senior Cannon Kyles – from a team that was eliminated from the playoffs by eventual state champion Jacksonville.
Kyles will be one of at least eight seniors on this year’s team, but many of them have been role players and backups prior to this season.
“So it’s really a new start for a lot of guys,” Calloway said.
That can be a good thing in the midst of a coaching change, as Calloway will have an opportunity to teach his way of doing things without having to change too many deeply ingrained habits.
“Things like learning to play off the ball, learning how to cut at angles. Defensively, understanding the weak side of the floor, helping the helper, things like that,” Calloway said. “They’ve just got to play more, so that’s what we’re going to use this month of June to do.”
That starts with a pair of games at LaFayette Wednesday and continues with six more play dates throughout the rest of this month.
At age 30 Calloway is in his first head coaching job. And it will be his first time setting out on his own without Obadiah Threadgill, who Calloway coached under at both LaFayette and Pike Road.
And it will be the second time that Calloway has been hired by an administration that includes current Roanoke City Schools superintendent Greg Foster. Foster was the principal at Pike Road when Threadgill was hired and brought Calloway with him from LaFayette.
Calloway has been a patient understudy on a lot of successful basketball teams, including LaFayette’s run to the 2020 final four that followed a 31-0 regular season.
“I’ve been blessed to be in a pretty good situation in my coaching career,” he said. “Coach Threadgill, he gave me the opportunity to do a lot of head coach’s jobs. Paperwork, traveling, just putting things together. He allowed me to fully prepare for this opportunity when my time came, just knowing how things go. I’m kind of ahead of the game right now.”
Seeing Handley up close during those years at LaFayette helped sway Calloway to apply for the job once it came open.
“We played Handley those years we were there, and I knew the athleticism would be through the roof,” he said. “I knew that based on all the success they had in football as well. So that kind of drew me there.”
And as far as first impressions go, he has been struck by the early coachability of the players on this Handley team.
“I’ve only been around a couple of weeks, but the kids here, they want to work. They want to get better. I just fell into a sweet spot,” Calloway said. “I know my work ethic and the things that I can give them, but there’s nothing better than having a group of kids that are bought in already and are eager to learn. So I’m very fortunate for that.”