Jacob Selman’s coaching position within the Bartow County School System will essentially read Woodland High varsity boys basketball coach, but neither Selman nor Wildcats athletics director John Howard envision such a narrow focus.
Both individuals, as well as seemingly everyone involved in hiring Selman, appear intent on returning Woodland to its glory days through a grassroots approach designed to model the program after its nearby counterparts.
That approach began in earnest not long after Selman was approved by the school board on May 20. In June, he held two basketball camps for boys entering second through eighth grades.
“My vision is for a complete program — elementary school ages, middle school and getting involved in that on up into the high school,” Selman said Wednesday. “… We want all ages to be a part of [the program]. It doesn’t just happen when you come in to be a ninth-grader. I want to get the middle school involved in working with the CCJBC [Cobb County Junior Basketball Conference] program and trying to get the feeder program started at Woodland.”
Selman’s approach to building a program from the ground up is the exact type of plan Howard hoped to see from the team’s next head coach.
“You always look for that total program management guy,” Howard said. “I was leaning towards someone who could work with the youth and develop a relationship all the way down into the elementary schools, and somebody who had a passion for building a program from the early stages all the way through. I feel like Bartow County is a little bit behind other counties, because of the way our recreation departments and middle school athletics are still set up. I know Cobb County and Paulding County schools, the high schools get their hands on the kids from kindergarten all the way up. It doesn’t work that way in Bartow. Not to say we aren’t doing it the right way, just a different way.
“I needed someone who came in and showed a passion for the youth and not just the varsity team. … Coach Selman was, by far, our top candidate, and luckily, we offered him the position and he accepted it.”
Woodland will represent Selman’s first opportunity to be a varsity head coach. A graduate of Model High and Reinhardt University, Selman has previously spent three years at Marietta and most recently five seasons at North Forsyth following a brief stint as a semipro basketball player.
Selman’s coaching style appears to be a combination of the perspectives gained at each Class 7A program at which he's coached.
“It’s two very different cultures,” Selman said. “Marietta is one culture and North Forsyth is a completely different type of culture. I think having that experience through both cultures allows me to really assess a player’s ability. One culture is that they want to run-and-gun, get it up quick, and that’s really where I like to be. In the other culture, it’s structured. They feed off every set, every play has to be ran. They need the strict fundamentals in order to be successful. They’re not going to out-athlete you.
"Really my philosophy is a mesh of those two things. I want to play up tempo; I want to play fast. But I want to play with pure fundamentals and be able to run a few sets here and there, when they’re needed, but give freedom to the game, as well.”
Selman replaces Colman Roberts, who spent the past three seasons as the Wildcats head coach. Roberts will continue teaching at Woodland, as well as coaching softball in the fall and girls golf in the spring,
“It was just tough on me coaching three sports,” Roberts said of his decision to step down. “… There’s not many people who coach three sports, and it was rough on me in the summer. Trying to schedule summer stuff, I didn’t have a summer, basically, so I made that decision.”
Although Roberts noted he’s a year and a half from retirement, Howard expressed gratitude that one of Woodland’s longest-serving teachers and coaches will remain with the Wildcats in 2019-20.
“We can’t lose coach Roberts,” Howard said. “He’s too valuable. He’s getting closer to retirement, but hopefully, he’ll continue to teach and to coach as many years as he wants to. He’s a phenomenal coach, no matter what it is. … He has been nothing but 100% supportive of coach Selman and helping him out with the transition.”
Roberts actually took over the basketball position from Howard, who held the job four seasons. Both were promoted from within, making Selman the program’s first outside hire since current Cartersville High coach Mike Tobin, who led Woodland’s most recent winning season — a 24-3 campaign in 2011-12.
“When I took over for coach Tobin, I was part of Woodland,” Howard said. “Coach Roberts took over for me and was part of Woodland. We weren’t looking for a fresh face [at that time].
“What I do like about coach Selman is that he’s younger, and I feel like he’ll be able to relate to the kids a little bit better than maybe myself or coach Roberts. I think me and coach Roberts, we’re a little bit more old school.”
Said Roberts, “I think he’s going to be good. He’s very enthusiastic. He’s been coaching a while. He played college basketball. Played in this area at Model under Milt Travis, who is a great coach. Milt speaks very highly of him. … I like him. I think he’s a great choice.”
Howard admitted the hiring process took longer than he would have liked, although most of that can be chalked up to the Woodland High principal transition from Wes Dickey to David Stephenson. In the end, though, Selman was thrilled just to be offered the position.
“I was ecstatic,” he said. “I can’t thank coach Howard enough for allowing me to be head boys basketball coach here. Mr. Stephenson, the new principal, he was in my interview as well, and I can’t thank him enough. It’s something I’ve always wanted. Basketball has been my passion since I was 8 years old. …
“When I got my teaching job and started coaching at Marietta, it was definitely going to be my goal to become a head coach. I’m definitely excited to be one of the first outside hires here at Woodland at the basketball position in a long time. I’m looking forward to making it the best it can be.”
During a 20-minute discussion from his new office just a few feet away from the court where he’ll soon lead the Wildcats, Selman hit upon several things that made the Woodland job enticing.
Even though he is commuting from Dawsonville — where he lives with his wife Chelsea and three children, Mason, 5, Logan, 4, and Ella, 2 — the location is near his parents’ home in Floyd County, where he was born and raised. Selman also enjoys the ability to always find a pickup basketball game in Bartow County between the likes of Dellinger Park, Aubrey Street and LakePoint.
As for the Woodland program itself, he’s seen the Wildcats have success in the past and produce some great athletes. However, he also relishes the chance to help build a new tradition.
So while there were clearly several things that drew Selman to the basketball job, one hugely important factor was the chance for him to land his preferred teaching position in the special education department.
“I love working with exceptional children,” he said, adding that he'll teach math and science. “… That’s my niche is being able to connect with those types of kids, being able to get out my passion of teaching and learning with them.”
His goal will be to use those same abilities to also lead Woodland boys basketball into a new era.
It won’t be an overnight fix. The team returns just one starter and a few reserves from last year’s 4-21 group. But a patient approach, focused on the future instead of the present, could see the Wildcats soon return to their glory days.
Selman knows it won’t be easy. It’s going to take a concerted effort to improve the play of those who won’t be joining the varsity roster for several years, and Selman seems ready to embrace that challenge.
“Things they learn at the elementary level, the middle school level, those are the most pivotal points,” he said. “Those are the foundations of what’s going to make your high school programs successful. If you’re having to teach them how to dribble, how to catch, how to shoot, then you’re always going to be behind anybody who already has those types of players.
“Some teams are going to have studs. You can’t live and breathe on the studs, day in and day out. But if you have a bunch of guys who are willing to lock in and play a role, then I feel like any team that does that, which is what we’re going to do here, can be successful.”