Little coming home to coach

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By Scott Akanewich

Sixteen years ago, when Ryan Little sat on the Liberty Hill bench as a Panthers player, if someone had suggested at the time he would return someday to occupy the same space as a coach, his reaction would’ve been one of bewilderment.

“I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Little, who graduated with the Class of 2005.

However, here he is, over a decade-and-a-half later – albeit in a different gym – but in that very same place, only now as an assistant to Panthers head coach Barry Boren – something he never envisioned back then, but embraces the opportunity these days.

In fact, Little – who teaches English – views coaching as a natural extension of the instruction he provides young minds in the classroom.

“Teaching is my vocation – it’s what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said. “With coaching, I can see and get to know the personalities of the kids in a different arena.”

Little is in his ninth year of teaching and has returned to Liberty Hill after working in Indiana for several years as part of “Teach For America,” a nonprofit organization focused on providing proper educational opportunities in low-income communities, where he also coached basketball and football at the middle school level.

But, this is his first gig back in high school and Little is looking forward to beginning his prep coaching quest right back where the seeds were planted in the first place, with Boren as his mentor, he said.

“Coach Boren has grown and changed over the years,” said Little, who also roomed with Boren’s son and fellow Panthers assistant Blake Boren when both were attending the University of Texas. “I think he’s the only one I would come back and do this for.”

Back during his playing days, Little always had an appreciation for the thinking aspect of the game, but it wasn’t until later that he began to fully understand the more technical side.

“I always loved the mental part,” he said. “But, the Xs and Os didn’t come around until I started teaching.”

Liberty Hill is certainly a different place than when Little first called it home – that’s for sure, he said.

“It’s really amazing how much it’s grown,” said Little. “Back then, we were still a Class 3A school and I graduated with 142 people.”

With coaches always looking for players who are open-minded to instruction, Little said he’s confident in the fact he was like that back in his day.

“I like to think I was coachable,” he said. “I was a bit fiery, but always cerebral and was willing to fill whatever role they needed me to.”

Now, Little will attempt to do the same thing, only on the other end of the relationship and becoming a part of the Panthers’ program once again is the ideal environment to make it happen.

“Coach Boren has such a good thing going here,” said Little. “I’m just ready to jump in and add what I can, so right now, I’m trying to soak up as much as I can. But, I already know how we operate, so I can get it faster.”

So, what’s more challenging, teaching students proper English skills in the classroom or getting players to successfully execute a crisply-run play on the court?

“I would have to say the grammar piece is more difficult,” he said. “When teaching, it’s harder to establish that connection as far as the ‘why’ is concerned. But, with basketball, the goal is more obvious.”

During his time spent in the Hoosier State, Little was impressed by the culture and quality of the game in a place that it’s known for, but added his new pupils have so far shown their worth.

“Wherever you go, the game is the same,” said Little. “We have some really good guys here – the kids are awesome.”

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