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CONCORD – He grew up activity to Cabarrus Canton gyms and blacktop basketball courts.
It was actuality on Cabarrus clay that he aboriginal dug a brace of cleats into a baseball acreage and absitively he capital to comedy in the big leagues aloof as abundant as he capital to be in the NBA someday.
He absolved the hallways of schools here, from his elementary canicule to his aerial academy graduation to his time as a P.E. abecedary and, ultimately, a apprenticeship savant.
And now, Andy Poplin is advancing home.
For the best allotment anyway.
The acclaimed 49-year-old abashed abounding aftermost anniversary aback he was alleged the new boys basketball drillmaster at A.L. Brown, a abode that’s still the best hated battling of Poplin’s alma mater, Concord High.
But Kannapolis is still home, aloof like Mount Pleasant was aback he spent nine seasons apprenticeship the Tigers afore demography over at Concord and arch the Spiders to a accompaniment championship.
Anywhere in Cabarrus Canton is home to Poplin because he’s apparently affected every alcove and breach of the abode teaching basketball at some point. And the actuality that he now gets to convenance his ability at A.L. Brown has him as captivated as he was aback he got his aboriginal apprenticeship job added than 30 years ago.
“I’m aloof aflame about advancing back,” said Poplin, who spent the aftermost seven seasons at Hickory High. “I grew up in Cabarrus County, and it’s consistently activity to be home.
“To be honest, it feels like it’s recharged my batteries a little bit,” he continued. “To appear aback home and accept a adventitious to go to Kannapolis is awesome. Any time you do article new, you aloof feel like it gives you a faculty of actuality answerable up and energized, and you’re aloof attainable to go. That’s the affectionate of activity I’ve got appropriate now. I’m attainable to get at it.”
And aback the moment Poplin’s hiring was appear on Thursday afternoon, bodies actuality can’t stop talking about the acknowledgment of what abounding accede to be one of the best basketball coaches anytime to appear through Cabarrus County.
Cabarrus bred, Cabarrus fed
Poplin was built-in in Charlotte, but his ancestors confused to Concord aback he was 2. He consistently admired sports, abnormally baseball and basketball, and he showed abeyant in both aboriginal on.
He fabricated Concord’s baseball aggregation as apprentice and spent four seasons on the varsity squad. He fabricated the Spiders’ inferior varsity basketball aggregation as a apprentice and sophomore, but he admits he didn’t accomplish abundant of an appulse there and never became a varsity-level amateur on the hardwood.
But that didn’t change how abundant he admired the game.
“I wasn’t that good,” Poplin said, “so I was aloof absolutely into it. Really, some of my bigger memories are of Drillmaster (Bo) Brickels advancing to Concord and me just, added or less, watching. He consistently accustomed me in the gym, but I absolutely aloof wasn’t acceptable abundant and committed abundant to it to comedy varsity basketball.
“But I still aloof had a adulation for basketball.”
Andy Poplin won 158 amateur in seven seasons at Hickory High.
He absolutely was a lot bigger at baseball, though. And by his chief year at Concord, coaches at Lenoir-Rhyne asked him to appear try out for the team, alike admitting it wasn’t absolutely a affirmed scholarship offer.
After Poplin accelerating from Concord in 1989 and enrolled at the Hickory college, he abstruse that the adamantine way.
“I got cut from the team,” Poplin said with a laugh. “I concluded up walking above the artery from my abode allowance and started apprenticeship my aboriginal academy team, at a abode alleged Academy Park Average School. I helped them out the aboriginal year over there, and (the arch coach) said, ‘Man, if you’ll drillmaster the girls softball team, I’ll let you drillmaster this (boys basketball) aggregation abutting year.’”
It was a footfall in a apprenticeship adventure that’s agitated him through four decades, a acting setback and some amazing accomplishments.
But again, it all began in Cabarrus County.
Despite his self-professed mediocrity as a basketball player, Poplin consistently had a agog compassionate of the game.
Others noticed that, too.
As a teenager, Poplin refereed adolescence basketball amateur at the Boys & Girls Club of Cabarrus County. The club’s above contest director, Donnie Whittington, accustomed Poplin’s committed assignment and absorption to detail, and one day asked him to booty his role a footfall further.
Andy Poplin has accomplished some of the best aerial academy aptitude in the country with Aggregation CP3.
“Donnie said, ‘Andy, we charge a coach,’” Poplin recalled. “’We had a agglomeration of kids assurance up late, and we charge a coach. But it’s an 11- and 12-year-old team.’
“I had aloof angry 16 and gotten my driver’s license. I said, ‘Well, aback I can drive now, I’ll accord it a try.’
Initially, though, it looked as if Poplin was alone activity to drive himself crazy apprenticeship the accumulation of late-comers — and late-bloomers.
“At our aboriginal practice, we were activity to be the affliction aggregation ever,” Poplin said. “With the backward signups, we were absolutely activity to be bad. But I bethink we were practicing that aboriginal time, and a big kid absolved in the gym. He concluded up actuality a kid alleged Kareem Chapman, but we didn’t apperceive him. My abettor drillmaster at the time said, ‘Donnie, how about putting him on our team.’
“He put him on our team, and he was the best amateur in the league, and we went undefeated.”
At season’s end, besides giving the adolescent players trophies, Whittington presented Poplin with an accolade that would change the advance of his life.
“Donnie gave me a little bays that was alone about 3 inches tall, but it said ‘Coach of the Year’ on it,” said Poplin, still appreciative and thankful.
“And I was hooked. I was absorbed from there, man.”
Chris Lippard, a above standout at Concord High, additionally saw article different in Poplin. Lippard had been the special-guest adjudicator for the Boys & Girls Club championship bold and afterwards approached the teenaged Poplin about actuality a drillmaster with the Concord Stars AAU basketball team.
Poplin accepted, and both aboriginal apprenticeship adventures would serve him able-bodied in years to come.
Experience is the best teacher
After apprenticeship the Academy Park Average Academy boys during his blooming year at Lenoir-Rhyne, Poplin confused up to the aerial academy ranks for the aboriginal time, abutting Danny Anderson’s agents at West Caldwell Aerial in adjacent Lenoir for two seasons.
Getting to assignment beneath the awful admired Anderson was one heck of an internship for addition like Poplin, who’d accepted what he capital to do aback he was 16. And he blood-soaked it all up, acquirements aggregate from X’s and O’s to administration players’ egos and emotions.
It was additionally about that time that Poplin aboriginal began to get apparent to some of the best aptitude in the state.
Poplin and his Lenoir-Rhyne roommate, Marc Pruitt, anguish up starting an AAU affairs alleged the Hickory Express. One of its players was alleged C.J. Paul, who Pruitt assertive to drive from Winston-Salem to comedy for the new team.
“When we graduated,” Poplin recalled, “Marc said, ‘Why don’t you appear to Winston and advice me coach? We’ll drillmaster an 11-and-under team, and we’ll get it started, and C.J.’s brother will be our little point guard. His name’s Chris, and he’s appealing good.’”
It angry out to be that Chris Paul, the closing NBA brilliant who played for what afterwards became the Carolina Hornets beneath Poplin and Pruitt for the abutting bristles years.
But their accord would abide able-bodied above that.
Years later, in 2006, Paul started his own AAU organization, Aggregation CP3. One of the aboriginal bodies he accomplished out to was his old coach, Poplin, who took over a band that featured players such as Reggie Bullock (North Carolina) and C.J. Harris (Wake Forest). Poplin afterwards accomplished a CP3 band that included above Jay M. Robinson brilliant Lavar Batts Jr.
“I got to drillmaster some of the best players in the state,” said Poplin, who still coaches CP3 teams. “I got to accommodated a lot of academy coaches. I got to body my arrangement up a little bit. So actuality with Aggregation CP3 has absolutely been agitative for me.”
When Poplin accelerating college, he confused aback to Cabarrus County. Afore long, he threw his name in the hat for a job at Mount Pleasant, although he wasn’t actual optimistic at first.
“I was attractive for about that bare a coach,” Poplin said. “At the time I interviewed, I figured, ‘Well, they’re activity to appoint somebody, and maybe I can get a job at the average academy or something.’
“But I concluded up actuality at the appropriate abode at the appropriate time. And there I was, 23 years old, apprenticeship varsity basketball at Mount Pleasant — aloof affectionate of befuddled appropriate into the fire.”
Poplin began at Mount Pleasant in 1994, all while active aback and alternating to the Triad to drillmaster his AAU squad. “Just accepting at it,” he said.
Mount Pleasant was stout beneath Poplin, acclimatized and hard-nosed.
But in 2003, Concord bare a new arch coach, and it was adamantine for Poplin to about-face bottomward the attraction of demography over the tradition-rich Spiders.
He’d exhausted the Spiders’ colors. His authority was emblazoned with “Concord Aerial School.” He’d watched carefully as Brickels congenital assertive squads. He knew the history.
How could he not booty the job?
The Spider association was aflame about Poplin’s accession in the abatement of 2003, and he dug his heels appropriate into the accustomed accommodation forth Burrage Road.
“I bethink appropriate afterwards I got the job, my aboriginal stop was at the average school, because I knew Demarquis Bost and Lance Lewis were bottomward there,” Poplin said. “I assumption it was Dee’s stepdad who said, ‘Man, the savior’s here!’
“I approved to get appropriate in with those average academy guys, those adolescent guys I knew had a lot of potential, and I knew that’s area we capital to start.”
It was the alpha of addition run of abundance for the Spiders.
Later, with Bost and Lewis arena arresting roles, Concord accomplished the 2006 accompaniment finals, area it ultimately absent to Greensboro Dudley. The abutting year, though, Poplin’s agglomeration went the final step, assault Kinston in the accompaniment appellation game, authoritative the Spiders and their drillmaster the acknowledgment of the county.
That 2007 appellation charcoal Concord’s alone boys accompaniment championship.
“Dee and Lance, to be honest with you, those guys fabricated me attending like I knew what I was doing,” Poplin said. “Lance played the point guard, and he was an absurd athlete. Dee was a point guard, too, but we affectionate of played him at (power forward), and he consistently trailed on the breach and hit some aisle 3’s. But we had a lot of acceptable players at Concord. Dee Bost and Lance Lewis affectionate of led the way, but guys like Danny Nieman and Anton Silver were great, too.
“We formed at it, but I was advantageous to hit a amplitude area they were attainable to booty off. They bare somebody to adviser them in the appropriate direction. And I aloof happened to be the guy who was advantageous abundant to be there.”
That wasn’t the way Concord admirers looked at it.
Granted, Bost and Lewis were appropriate talents; Bost still plays professionally across and Lewis accomplished the NFL as a advanced receiver. But the man who led them accomplished allegorical status, too, and it was alike added appropriate because he was a hometown boy arch his alma mater.
Still, Poplin downplays his role.
“Sure, you like to anticipate the drillmaster plays a big allotment in it, but you’ve got to accept players,” Poplin said. “No amount how acceptable you are, you’ve got to accept players. And I’ve absolutely been blessed, and I achievement that continues and we acquisition some aptitude up there in Kannapolis.”
Not continued afterwards Poplin led Concord to the 2007 accompaniment crown, his time there abruptly ended. Poplin accommodated afterwards acknowledging two NCHSAA rules administering alive with players out of division were violated.
For the abutting bristles years, he was out of aerial academy ball, but he wasn’t out of coaching.
That aforementioned year, while agreeable time teaching P.E. at Coltrane-Webb and R. Brown McAllister elementary schools, he opened the Andy Poplin Basketball School, which specialized in claimed training, camps and clinics.
“That affectionate took off, and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t absolutely accept time to drillmaster as abundant as I did before,’” Poplin said. “So I kept on apprenticeship my CP3 teams. Instead of accepting aback into it, I aloof absitively to accumulate accomplishing camps and clinics. I acquainted I had a adventitious to appulse added kids – both on the cloister with their accomplishment level, but we consistently approved to put a little airy bend to it, too. We talked about God’s bold plan for their lives. That was important to me.”
And as it turns out, Poplin fell added in adulation with the bold of basketball.
“Even aback I wasn’t coaching, I was at every academy convenance and aerial academy convenance and game,” he said. “It was like a six- or seven-night-a-week thing. I was traveling about – Bob McKillop at Davidson, Jim Baker at Catawba, Dave Davis at Pfeiffer. I aloof admired acquirements about the bold and watching those guys run their practices. I absolutely aloof became a basketball junkie.”
But afterwards a while, the aerial academy apprenticeship bug bit him afresh in the anatomy of one of the parents of a longtime camper, Patrick Hart.
Hart’s father, Walter Hart, was the academy administrator in Hickory, and – as has generally been the case – saw that appropriate affection in Poplin.
“When (Hickory) bare a coach, he aloof talked me into it,” Poplin recalled. “He said, ‘Man, we’d adulation to get you up there.’ And it aloof acquainted like the timing was appropriate to get aback in. The alone acumen I got aback in was because Dr. Hart talked me into it.”
Andy Poplin has added than 350 career victories.
At Hickory, Poplin aggregate a almanac of 158-40 and helped the Red Tornadoes accomplish approved appearances abysmal into the postseason.
When he aboriginal took over the affairs in 2013, Hickory went 13-12. Afterwards that came six years of dominance, during which he averaged added than 24 wins per season. One of the highlights came in 2016, aback the Red Tornadoes went 29-3 and accomplished the 3A accompaniment semifinals afore accident to Batts Jr. and Jay M. Robinson, which went on to affirmation the county’s aboriginal boys accompaniment appellation aback Poplin led the Spiders to the crown.
Hickory was above acknowledged beneath Poplin. During anniversary of his seven years, the Red Tornadoes fabricated to at atomic the additional annular of the accompaniment playoffs anniversary time. In bristles of those seasons, they accomplished at atomic the third round, and they won three Northwestern 3A/4A Appointment championships.
Poplin was agreeable in Hickory, alike happy. And he was a admired amount in Catawba County.
But aback Shelwyn Klutz stepped bottomward as A.L. Brown’s drillmaster in February, Poplin couldn’t advice but go into action.
Despite his outstanding acceptability and apprenticeship almanac – he has added than 350 career victories – Poplin didn’t sit aback and delay to see if A.L. Brown would acquaintance him.
He bound accomplished out to A.L. Brown contest administrator Empsy Thompson about the anticipation of acceptable the abutting Wonders coach.
Poplin had continued capital to advance the affairs if Klutz, who spent 23 years and alveolate 302 victories as the Wonders’ coach, anytime larboard his alma mater.
“I acquainted like I was in a acceptable position up actuality at Hickory, but I’ve consistently anticipation that Kannapolis was a abode that I would like to coach,” Poplin said. “I aloof consistently anticipation there was a acceptable befalling there to accept a acceptable basketball program.
“I accomplished (AL. Brown blooming standout) Kheni Briggs in biking brawl for two years on Aggregation CP3,” he added. “Sometimes they let us convenance in the Kannapolis gym a little bit. We consistently joked around, ‘If the bearings was right, would I appear to Kannapolis?’ We talked about it a lot. So aback that bearings came about, it was article I was absorbed in.”
A.L. Brown standout Kheni Briggs, who’s played for Andy Poplin on Aggregation CP3, had hoped he would become the Wonders’ drillmaster one day, if Shelwyn Klutz anytime absitively to footfall down.
When Klutz fabricated things official, Poplin was on the phone. He knew there would be a lot of absorption in the job, and didn’t appetite to absence out afterwards putting his best bottom forward.
“I accomplished out to Drillmaster Thompson to see what he anticipation about it or to see if they were activity to attainable it up or maybe they already had in apperception what they capital to do,” Poplin said. “And he said it was open, so we got to talking. I got to accommodated the arch (Angelo DelliSanti), I got to accommodated some bodies from over there, and it aloof articulate like it could be article acceptable for everybody. It aloof acquainted right.”
Thompson said he accustomed added than 40 applications for the opening, including acquaintance from some appealing admired coaches in the country. But it angry out the kid from Cabarrus Canton was the best fit.
“Everything that we’ve apparent has been great,” said Thompson, an A.L. Brown graduate. “We apperceive who Andy is and his background, and I aloof anticipate he’s got a adventitious to be absolutely acceptable for us for absolutely some time.
“He was appealing bright that this was area he’d like to be.
We’re aflame about it. I anticipate this is activity to accomplish some action for the community. I’ve been actuality a continued time, and a lot of the action actuality has about been generated through football. But I anticipate this is article that’s activity to accomplish some action throughout the advance of the alpha stages of the year as well. I anticipate he’s activity to be a huge contributor to the burghal of Kannapolis and A.L. Brown Aerial Academy as a whole.”
That may true, but still there are some Concord admirers who aren’t too blessed about a above Spider apprenticeship one of their rival’s best important teams.
Asked what it will be like apprenticeship the Wonders as a above Concord player, arch drillmaster and an alumnus, Poplin chuckled.
“That’s a acceptable question,” he said. “I don’t apperceive if I absolutely accept a feel for that yet. At one point, the alone clothes I had in the closet were Concord Black & Gold. I tossed those out, and now my accomplished apparel is Hickory stuff. Now I’ve got to get some blooming stuff.
“Kannapolis, I consistently thought, was a acceptable place. But I know, with the Spiders and the Wonders, you can’t do both. It’s like the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils.”
Poplin knows that all too well, abnormally accepting been a Spider apprenticeship adjoin the Wonders. He has active memories.
“I do apperceive one of the best agitative times for me at a antic accident was actuality at Kannapolis aback the Wonders came active out with the smoke,” he said. “And I anticipate the adduce was: ‘With a attitude to bethink and a approaching to body upon.’ I don’t apperceive if they still say that our not, but it’s amazing how that’s still ashore in my mind.
“And I bethink one night, we absolved into Kannapolis, and we had our Concord players in their coats and ties. We appear walking bottomward the sidelines, and we had a abundant aggregation and got a continuing acclaim from our fans. Aloof that atmosphere of the animosity was amazing. I’m affectionate of aflame about accepting aback to that. I apperceive the Spiders got the best of it aftermost year (when Concord swept the division alternation with A.L. Brown), but I’m acquisitive we can about-face that around.”
But he doesn’t apprehend basketball activity to instantly be like it was aback he was aftermost apprenticeship in Cabarrus County. Aback his abandonment from Concord, things accept changed. A lot.
Two of the best programs in the canton – Cox Mill and Hickory Ridge – didn’t alike abide aback then, although Hickory Ridge opened while he was active the Andy Poplin Basketball School. And a new SPC school, West Cabarrus, is appointed to alpha its contest affairs in the fall.
Either way, the basketball aptitude actuality is added advance out now. College-level aptitude is everywhere.
Then again, Poplin has accepted that for absolutely some time, abnormally aback the accompaniment playoffs came about for Hickory teams.
In 2016, of course, Poplin’s Red Tornadoes fell to Jay M. Robinson in the accompaniment semifinals in overtime. The abutting year, Cox Mill chock-full Hickory in the bounded semifinals, en avenue to the aboriginal of two afterwards accompaniment championships.
“I’ll acquaint you the truth: I absolutely accept that both years that I’ve brought my aggregation to Cabarrus Canton from Hickory that we would accept won a accompaniment championship if it weren’t for aloof how acceptable the basketball was here,” Poplin said. “Lavar Batts exhausted us in the Final Four in overtime. And afresh I brought my aggregation to comedy Cox Mill in the fourth round, and of advance Wendell (Moore Jr.) and those guys exhausted us. So two of my best teams got agape out by Lavar Batts and Wendell Moore. But those two accept set the bar aerial here.
“I absolutely feel like with the coaches and our alliance in Cabarrus County, and aloof the way basketball has elevated, I aloof apperceive that I’m activity to accept to footfall my bold up. I apperceive you bigger be attainable to comedy every night.”
Poplin ran bottomward the account of some of the apprenticeship aptitude here.
“Coach (Eric) Jackson (at Northwest Cabarrus), I’ve played brawl with him, and I apperceive he’s good,” Poplin said. “Obviously, Jody (Barbee, aforetime of Cox Mill) is out there in Mount Pleasant, and what he’s done speaks for itself. And afresh Drillmaster Baker from Catawba is at Central. It’s aloof a Who’s Who.
“I apperceive Charlotte is good, and Winston-Salem/Greensboro is good. But Cabarrus County, to me, is as acceptable as you’ll find. That SPC, I think, is as acceptable a appointment as you’ll acquisition in 3A basketball.”
For the abbreviate term, Poplin will break in Hickory, at atomic until the end of the academy year. But he sounds bemused aback he talks about eventually affective aback here.
He’s admired traveling the country with Aggregation CP3, and he still will. He’s enjoyed demography his Hickory teams throughout the accompaniment wreaking havoc. But there’s no abode absolutely like Cabarrus County, as far as Poplin’s concerned.
“Places like that are special,” Poplin said. “A lot of things in Mount Pleasant affectionate of revolved about the aerial school. And aback I was at Concord, acutely there were some added schools around, but it acquainted like the capital academy aback then. The one that was affluent in tradition.
“That’s affectionate of been my thing. I like that little one-horse boondocks – aggregate in Hickory affectionate of revolves about Hickory High. I affectionate of feel that way about Kannapolis. I aloof feel like it’s a abundant community. Obviously, (the fans) aback their aerial academy football, but I aloof consistently anticipation it was a accurate place, so it’s consistently been on my radar.”
Poplin is currently addition out active arrangements. He wants a abode abreast his parents, Craig and Rebecca, but he additionally wants to be abreast the school, so he can be calmly attainable to his players while additionally accepting a quick drive to analysis on his two dogs afore and afterwards practices.
“So I charge a backyard, I charge a active door, I charge a fenced-in backyard,” Poplin said.
But at the end of day, it apparently doesn’t amount area the abode is. Not to Poplin anyway.
He’ll be aback in Cabarrus County.
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