Gretna High School has hired DeMichael Lee as its new head basketball coach.
Lee most recently worked as Altavista High School’s (AHS) JV coach and varsity assistant coach. He said he was asked to apply for the Gretna job a month ago, and found out early in August that he got it.
“It was a very emotional time for me because I’ve worked so hard over the past, I’d say maybe 15 years,” Lee said. “And it finally just paid off.”
Though Lee has been a part of the Colonels’ basketball program for much of his life, winning a state championship as a player, and later three more as an assistant coach, he said he is all-in for Gretna, and hopes to bring the school its first-ever state championship in basketball. With hard work, dedication and belief in one’s self, Lee said, “You’re going to be amazed what you can accomplish.”
Lee got his first coaching opportunity as an eighth grader at the YMCA. After two years as an assistant coach, he was promoted to head coach at the YMCA. Lee said he held that post for six to eight years. During that time he also worked as an assistant coach at Holy Cross School in Lynchburg, before he was hired by Mike Cartolaro as Altavista Combined School’s (ACS) middle school coach. At one point he coached at both the YMCA and ACS simultaneously.
Lee recalled being cut from the team by Cartolaro as a senior at AHS.
“I could have quit and just sulked in school or whatever, but I battled through it,” Lee said. “Years later, he asked me to be a part of his staff.”
When Cartolaro left and Troy Harris took over as Altavista’s head varsity coach, Lee became the Colonels’ JV coach. He coached the JV team for roughly seven years, staying on once current head coach Casey Johnson took over.
After coaching basketball players of all ages in Altavista for more than the last 10 years, Lee said he got emotional earlier this month when he told the travel basketball team he coaches, which includes multiple AHS players, about his new job at Gretna.
“I just got overwhelmed knowing that this possibly could be my last time coaching them,” Lee said.
Lee said he will encourage players to play AAU or travel ball in the offseason, and continue working with the Virginia Carolina United travel team he formed this year with players from Altavista.
Though Gretna is now Lee’s top priority, Lee said he still wants the best for Altavista’s players too, especially after making it all the way to the state championship game last season.
“Like I told most of them, go get that ring,” he said.
Moving forward, Lee said he plans to have the Hawks play man-to-man defense and will coach them to play hard, and play together.
“I just want to meet the guys, and then from that moment on, once I get in the gym and start working with them, I’ll know exactly what we need to work on,” he said.
Lee said he teaches players to make responsible choices they can be proud of later in life, and wants to help them grow into all-around good people.
“As long as you’re competing and getting better as a person and a player, that’s all I really care about,” he said.
Lee said he’s also looking forward to his first game against Altavista.
“Whenever Altavista and Gretna end up playing each other in basketball, that’s going to be a really emotional, crazy, fun time to be at that game,” he said.