Ethan Humphries won’t have to buy a lot of new clothes when he returns to James River to coach the basketball team this fall. For the past six years he’s worn black and red and coached “Knights.”
That was at Cave Spring, where Ethan was the head jayvee coach and varsity assistant under Jacob Gruse. Ethan earned a second state championship ring when Cave Spring was named co-state champs in Class 3 after the state final was cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Ethan received his first championship ring in 2010 when he led another team of black and red Knights, at James River High, to the state Group 2A championship. He was named the state Class 2A Player of the Year that season, so he should feel right at home when he takes over for his old coach, Mike Goad, as head of the River program.
“I’m excited and happy to be here,” said Humphries. “I still live 10 or 15 minutes from the high school so this is a great fit for me.”
Ethan will have a tough act to follow. Goad won 400 games as a high school coach, including 267 wins over the past 18 seasons at James River. Humphries was a senior point guard on that 2010 state championship team.
“He was like a coach on the floor for us,” said Goad of Humphries. “He was a leader and well-respected by his teammates and opponents. He was always calm under pressure.”
Goad remembers how tough a player Ethan was during his River days.
“He played through pain,” said Goad. “He played with bloody socks from blisters and he played with stitches in his head.”
Despite that Ethan looks back fondly on his high school days, especially the championship season.
“It was definitely the highlight of my playing career,” he said. “I was playing with guys I grew up with and everyone understood their roles. It was a lot of fun.”
Humphries went on to play at Roanoke College under Page Moir, the all-time wins leader of the Maroons’ storied program.
“That was a great experience,” he said. “I started some and was the primary ballhandler, but sometimes I was the fifth option on offense so I really diversified my game.”
Ethan missed the beginning of his junior season with a concern over his heart. At that point he didn’t know if he would even play again, but after a few months everything was fine and he returned to the court.
“Sitting on the bench, not being able to play, I got to see the other end of it,” he said. “I think that probably helped me in the long run.”
Ethan graduated in 2014 and was hired right out of college by Cave Spring coach Gruse, who was new to the Knights as well. Gruse made him the jayvee coach and that was a learning experience for Humphries.
“I got to handle my own team and I was also around the varsity,” he said. “I owe a lot to coach Gruse for giving me an opportunity right out of college like he did. We came at the same time and I learned a lot from him.”
If Ethan wants to run Gruse’s offense he won’t have two 6’8” post-players and a state Player of the Year on the River roster. Gruse had twin towers and state Class 3 Player of the Year point guard Jalen Buster at Cave Spring last winter when they won the state championship. Coach Humphries received his state championship ring a couple weeks ago during a ceremony for the Cave Spring team.
“He’s been around winning programs, so he knows what it takes to win,” said Goad. “He’ll have a good foundation returning.”
James River was 5-17 overall last year but the Knights played a tough schedule with a very young team. River had two All-Three Rivers District selections and both were underclassmen. Freshman Ryan Steger was first team all-district and sophomore Patrick Clevenger was second team in the very tough Three Rivers.
Ryan Firebaugh will return to the staff as an assistant and Jesse Witt will be the junior varsity coach for the Knights. With the coronavirus Ethan won’t be able to take the team to any camps this summer, but he’s hopeful some colleges will put on team camps in the fall if the pandemic eases.
“I saw a few of their games last year,” said Humphries of his new team from his old school. “I’m anxious to get to know them and really get going. This is an exciting time for me.”