He is a developer. He believes in each of his players, and constantly encourages them, preparing and growing them into women who are ready to face the real world. Most of all, he is passionate about the “great game of basketball.” This is just a short glimpse into the life of Coach Paul Duke, the head women’s basketball coach at Mississippi College.
“My mother was an All-State basketball player,” said Duke. “My twin sister was a girly girl; she wasn’t really an athlete. My mother really introduced me to the great game of basketball.” Originally from Columbus, Miss., Duke grew up playing basketball at the YMCA after school with his friends. “That was a very safe place. It taught us great Christian values,” said Duke, with a gleam in his eye, “And that was the place that taught us how to play basketball.”
For Duke, the best thing about being a coach is developing his players. “Making them better and giving them confidence to get better. I really enjoy working with the players and making them better with their skill work,” he said.
Skill work is one of the techniques that Duke focuses on individually with each player. “Basketball is a fundamental sport, so we work on their fundamentals to make them better with their skill set.” Duke said that each position requires a particular skill set. “The point guard position requires dribbling, passing, and shooting, so we teach them to dribble, pass, and shoot. We’re always in player development.”
Duke stresses that passion is important, not just in basketball, but in everything you do. “As a player, you’ve got to absolutely love the great game of basketball,” said Duke. “You’ve got to have that love and passion for it. And time is the key to everything.”
“What I do for a living, I don’t call it work,” Duke said with a smile. “I enjoy it so much! Every day I drive up 200 South Capitol and smile because I come to this golden dome. This is a great place to work. I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed to be here for such a long time. MC is a great college.”
In contrast, the hardest thing about being a coach for Duke is “getting people to give an overall effort in everything they do.” He also said that the teamwork can be difficult too. “You’ve got to accept your role on the team. Everybody’s got a skill that they’re really good at. Not everyone can be a good shooter, and some people can’t rebound,” he said.
As a coach, Duke works hard to see that his players go on to be “productive and successful citizens.” To Duke, it’s not just winning and losing games. “It’s teaching the girls the right values and have them leave Mississippi College and become successful people in the real world. That’s what I look forward to.”
The most important thing about coaching is to take it one day at a time. “Each day is a different day, and sometimes people make mistakes. And you try to be patient and develop these players,” said Duke. “It’s a challenge when you work with people. And you’ve got to be forgiving.”
Emery Wilson is a sophomore on the team. “Coach Duke has been a very new and different experience,” she said. “You always learn something new from him.”
Wilson has been playing basketball for approximately eight years. Even with her years of experience, she said that she has learned new skills from Duke. “He always reminds us to always be a student first. He teaches us to be modest, respectful young ladies,” she said, “He teaches us about life outside of basketball too.”
While Duke wishes the team would’ve had better luck this season, he recognizes that developing the program into DII doesn’t happen overnight. “We’re better than we were when we first started, so it’s a process we’re in,” said Duke. “It’s been really tough. We’ve been knocked down, but we’ve gotten back up. When you get knocked down, what do you do? You jump right back up. And we will be better as we go.”