WAXHAW — For the first time in the high school’s 11-year history, the Cuthbertson boys basketball team will take the floor without Mike Helms as the head coach.
Taking over for Helms — who has accepted the head coach job at Parkwood — is Chris Caputi, who served as an assistant under Helms for one season. Cuthbertson went 9-16 overall last year and finished fifth in the Southern Carolina Conference (6-8).
Before joining Cuthbertson last season, Caputi, 32, was the head coach at North Forsyth for a season. He also spent two years each as an assistant at Queens University and Ardrey Kell High in Charlotte.
High school basketball practice in N.C. begins on Dec. 7 and the first regular season game can be played on Jan. 4, 2021.
Caputi spoke with The Enquirer-Journal on Friday about his transition to head coach, his relationship with Coach Helms and his excitement for the upcoming season.
Question: When Coach Helms left Cuthbertson, he was adamant about you becoming the team’s next head coach. What was that like getting that vote of confidence?
Answer: Coach Helms has been around a long time and is very respected in the community and the conference for everything that he’s done here at his time at Cuthbertson from when it first opened. He put together state championship (runner-up) runs, that speaks volumes. And to guy have a guy that’s been there in that capacity before, bringing in an assistant that he doesn’t know and understand some of the things that I was going to try to bring to the table and have confidence in me in practice and pre-games and during the game on the bench, it says a lot about him, and I was very appreciative of his vote of confidence. It makes this year easier, knowing I had that backing.
Question: Things are a little bit different this offseason compared to year’s past. How difficult has the COVID-19 pandemic made your preparation for this season, and what are some of the ways you’re trying to adapt to the situation?
Answer: Our football coach and I talk about it all the time. Every coach in America is in it right now. There’s trying to work with your team in this capacity, and then there’s trying to work for the very first time in this capacity and instituting new ideals and philosophies and kind of bringing your own thing into it without the ability to go full speed ahead and play with contact certainly makes it difficult.
But I’ve tried to be glass half-full and be creative and come up with new things and new drills that incorporate what we want to do while maintaining the protocols and safety guidelines. It’s been a positive thing to try and recreate the wheel from a workout and skill-development standpoint to be within all these guidelines. I’ve tried to work within that as best I can. The boys have been phenomenal in their work ethic, in their ability to adjust and adapt to how we have to do things now, and all we’re trying to do at the moment is create an identity. If we can bring an identity of work ethic and toughness to our workouts and to our skill-development sessions, hopefully those things will bleed over once we get that green light to go at it full-time.
Question: You only had three seniors on last years team and bring back a lot of guys, including your top scorer in J.P. Haggarty. How excited are you to get going with these guys and finally start the season?
Answer: I’m definitely excited. We lost three seniors from last year, but we actually lost a couple more. J.P. transferred to Lake Norman Christian. I think the uncertainty of the times with COVID and everything being put on hold is what led to that decision process there, but the guys that are here and are returning, the guys who have been in the program, I’m looking forward to it a lot. They’ve put in the time and the work ethic for our workouts that we’ve had two days a week, and my excitement level is through the roof for when we can watch these guys operate on a daily basis in a full-season capacity. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to, and we’re going to try and make as much noise as we can, especially for this graduating class: Will Heyward, Terrell Ray and Tre Branham. Those guys have been instrumental leaders during this time of uncertainty. If we can send them off the right way, that will be a really good thing.
Question: Coach Helms is over at Parkwood now, and you’ll have your first matchup with him at home on Jan. 22. How excited are you to go up against the guy who helped you get where you are today?
Answer: It’s definitely going to be an exciting game. It’s something I’m looking forward to and something he’s definitely looking forward to. The interesting thing about it will be, where are we at that point in time with all of our protocols. That would be a much different dynamic if the stands were packed to the gills and the student section. I think that could be a sellout night on both sides of the gym, but it could also be two teams going at it with only a handful of people watching. That’s definitely going to create a different dynamic, but from a player perspective and the coach perspective, there’s going to be an intensity and an energy within the game that’s definitely something we’re all looking forward to.