Witherspoon arrives to DP following a successful stint at national powerhouse Montverde Academy.
After slowly trickling into one of the conference rooms in the media center at Dr. Phillips High School, members of the Panthers boys basketball team take their seats.
It’s 11 a.m. — Friday, April 26 — and it’s the first chance they have at meeting new head coach Ben Witherspoon.
Before Witherspoon spoke, Athletic Director Steve McHale discussed the general outlines of the process of finding the right person to take over.
“I know how important this is to you, especially when coach (Daniel) Batchelor stepped down,” McHale said. “I just want to let you guys know, this wasn’t an easy decision — which is good on my part. We had many interviews that we had to go through the process. … It took us about a month.
“It’s very fortunate that I’ve known Ben for about five years,” he said. “I was very fortunate to have him when I was the AD over at Ocoee High School. When I came over here, he was making the transition over to Cypress Creek, and we just joked that, ‘Hey, one day we are going to get you over here with me.’”
The feeling of respect was mutual for Witherspoon, who took the first few minutes to go over who he was and where he had been.
Since graduating from Embry-Riddle University in 2006, Witherspoon, 35, has had coaching stints at Ocoee, Cypress Creek and most recently as an assistant at Montverde Academy — where he won a national title in 2014 with now NBA players Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell. He also coached on the AAU level for a few years.
Although everything he had done had been leading him to his goal of coaching college basketball, there was something about the high-school game he couldn’t leave.
“I realized this year how much I love coaching high school; how much I love winning; how much I love having my own program and how much I love spending time with my family,” Witherspoon said. “And then helping guys like you become better people, better students and better players.”
With a new goal now set, Witherspoon decided he would start searching for other head-coaching opportunities at the high-school level.
That’s when he shot a text over to his old friend at Dr. Phillips, telling McHale that DP was where he wanted to be.
“Every job is not the same, and when I made that list of where I wanted to be, DP was first,” Witherspoon said. “I’m not telling you that to blow smoke — I didn’t want to be at some of the other places as much. Me knowing Steve is important, me knowing what he wants and what his expectations are.
“The school itself and the program, the tradition and the players that have been here already and the talent that is already on this team from last year — that put DP first,” he said.
Although winning is something that Witherspoon said he plans to do, he also discussed the expectations he had for those in the program now and in the future — noting that the “student” aspect in “student-athlete” came before the “athlete.”
With his expectations high regarding his players’ representation in the classroom, on the court Witherspoon said that it is tough to have any expectations at the moment.
Last year, the Panthers went 12-15 — which snapped a 28-year streak of consecutive winning seasons — but there is one thing of which Witherspoon is sure: He will do whatever he can to make sure that his team moves forward in every way possible.
“I can only really expect what I’m going to give, and that’s everything,” Witherspoon said. “Be committed 100% to us getting better every day and maximum daily improvement — those are my expectations.”