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York Catholic's new boys' basketball coach wants his players to understand one thing right from the get go.

It's not his team.

"I want to get them to understand that on great teams, the players are the leaders," Blaine Claiborne said. "Don't wait for Coach Claiborne to provide the leadership. I want to teach them, but then let them play."

Claiborne, a standout player on outstanding York Catholic teams in the early 1990s, began his career as the head coach at his alma mater on Monday night, the opening day of winter sports practice for PIAA schools.

"I've been excited the last week or so," said Claiborne, whose full-time job is in Harrisburg with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. "I worked with ninth and 10th graders at an Irish Basketball Camp a while back, and I knew this was something I wanted to do. I love basketball, but I like being around kids, too."

Claiborne gained previous head coaching experience while in charge of the York High girls' program for five years.

"I learned there's a lot more to high school coaching than running your plays," he said. "You have coach-player relationships, coach-parent relationships. We have 20 kids in this program (varsity and junior varsity), and, obviously, not everyone is alike. Different personalities have to work together to be successful."

Claiborne had one head high school coach (Mike Keesey) during his four seasons. By contrast, he's York Catholic's third head coach in the past four seasons.

"I called the kids in and told them, 'it's tough (having three coaches in four years), and it's not fair, but that's life,'" Claiborne said."

This year's team features seven seniors.

Chris Ellis is one of the players who will play for his third head coach.

"I'm kind of used to it (change)," Ellis said. "You build bonds with your coach, and it's like you have to build a new one every year."

Ellis is impressed with Claiborne.

"He's high energy. He knows basketball, he knows us, and I think he's willing to adapt to the players' skills and do what's best for the team," Ellis said.

Claiborne's team will look to push the ball up the floor on offense and defend man to man.

"I think an up-tempo style is fun for the players and fun for the fans," he said. "Of course, if three years down the road, our team can't handle it (up-tempo style), we'll change things."

Coaching in the same gymnasium where he played will bring back special memories for Claiborne.

"We had a lot of fun, and we won a lot of games," he said. "The (championship) banners, the tradition and the way we played, they stick with me."

Claiborne grew up on West Stone Avenue in the city's west end, not far from the Codorus Creek.

"The house I used to live in was knocked down," he said. "The ground was caving in in that area. We used to play basketball all the time at Martin Luther King Park and Helen Thackston Park. Football was my favorite sport at first, but after I got to St. Patrick's School, basketball was the sport they played there."

Claiborne credits loving family members and some special friends from St. Patrick's for helping him in his growing-up years.

Following high school and college (Millersville University), Claiborne spent 12 years in the U.S. Navy.

He's back home now, preparing to take on a new challenge.

— Reach Dick VanO'Linda at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

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