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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Apr. 28, 2022 3 weeks ago

Ben Witherspoon steps down as Dr. Phillips’ basketball coach

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Witherspoon instilled an "ultimate teammate" culture into the Panthers' locker room. That led to a state championship.
by: Andrea Mujica Staff Writer

Ben Witherspoon — the coach who brought Dr. Phillips High its first boys basketball team state championship — is resigning to pursue his dream of coaching at the collegiate level. 

“It’s been a great run here at Dr. Phillips,” he said. “I wanted to build my own program into a national level program, and we were able to do that in a short amount of time. … It’s always been a goal of mine down the line to be a college coach and a college head coach, eventually, so right now, it felt like the right time to do it.” 

Witherspoon joined the Panthers in 2019, after coaching at Montverde Academy as an assistant for a year. In total, he has eight years of experience. 

When he arrived at Dr. Phillips, he did not have many expectations, but he definitely had goals. 

“Winning the first state championships in the school’s history was definitely one of those goals,” he said. “Obviously, things really exploded, and we exceeded our own expectations. … We just knew that we were going to work as hard as we possibly could and keep our heads down. … That’s what we did, and good things came from that.”

During his time at Dr. Phillips, Witherspoon led his team to two district championships and two regional championships, and also guided the program to its first state championship in 2021. During his tenure, Dr. Phillips had one player named to the McDonald’s All American Game, four players signed to major Division I universities and 10 players pursue basketball at the collegiate level. 

Being the ultimate teammate is the main pillar of the team culture Witherspoon implemented into the Panthers basketball program.

“That’s a phrase (ultimate teammate) that is used in sports for guys (who) don’t care about themselves and are just about winning,” he said. “They do anything it takes to win and are completely unselfish for the team.”

The second pillar of the team culture is having a growth mindset. 

“(Putting) the focus on guys getting better individually, and knowing that they can get better and that the way of doing that is by doing challenging things,” Witherspoon said. “(Because) things have to be hard for us to be better and grow as people.”

Witherspoon not only is grateful to have been able to build such a high program in three years at Dr. Phillips, but also he is hopeful he was able to impact his players in many more areas of life than just basketball. 

“I hope that I’ve been an example of first pursuing what you love in life and giving everything in line toward reaching that goal — whatever that is and whatever field it is,” he said. 

“I think that being the ultimate teammate applies to everything,” he said. “That’s a reason why it’s so important. … These guys are going to have jobs, these guys are going to have families. Hopefully, these guys will be leaders in their own right one day. But, you are always going to be on a team — and if you are the ultimate teammate on every team for the rest of your life — somebody is going to be valued on that team, so that’s a lesson that applies to everything, because we’ve all worked with people that are incredibly selfish, and nobody wants to work with them.”

Witherspoon is keeping his options open. He has been in touch with a few coaches at the collegiate level who have seen him work with the players and have seen him coach. Hopefully, one phone call conversation will open the door that will take him one step closer to his dream. 

However, although Witherspoon’s time at DP is over, the experience coaching the Panthers will stay with him forever.

“I am thankful for having the community welcome me, the school welcome me, the support we’ve got has been tremendous,” he said. “From the school administration, to the Dr. Phillips YMCA, everybody here in this area really supported us. ... I really appreciate the coaches in Orlando. We have high-level coaches in this area that made me better competing against them. It’s hard to win here in Orlando. ... We have great coaches (who) ... have been mentors to me here and made me better.”

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Andrea Mujica is a staff writer for the West Orange Times & Observer, the Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida....

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