Ed Mulliken has been named the new Land O’ Lakes High varsity girls basketball coach.
He replaces Phyllis Crain, who guided the Gators to regional championships in 2014 and 2015; Crain compiled an 85-50 in five seasons as head coach.
Mulliken, a longtime coach throughout Kentucky and Ohio, last coached girls basketball three years ago at Evangel Christian School in Louisville, Kentucky.
With relatives moving to Pasco County, Mulliken sought out various head coaching opportunities throughout the area before getting in touch with Karen Coss, Land O’ Lakes High’s athletic director.
Mulliken was hired after several rounds of interviews with school officials.
Mulliken has retained Justin Dargahi as an assistant, and former Sunlake High basketball player Alison Washburn will also join the new coach’s staff.
As he transitions to his new coaching job, Mulliken has already met with several prospective players, and recently held three open gyms to evaluate the team’s initial strengths and weaknesses. (Due to FHSAA Bylaws, coaches cannot assign sport-specific drills or tasks during off-season open facilities sessions.)
Once sanctioned practices are in place, Mulliken plans to beef up the team’s conditioning efforts.
“By the time basketball season starts, these girls will probably be in the best shape they’ve ever been in,” he said. “That’s one thing we believe in and that’s one thing our coaches will believe in: the girls being in great shape and being super conditioned, so when they get into the ball game, they’ll know the game is going to be easier than what practice was.”
To do that, Mulliken will try to instill an unquestioned work ethic by pushing the players through rigorous workouts and training.
“You can’t make up for athletic ability, you can’t make up for size, but you can control how good of shape you’re in and how aggressive you are on the floor,” he said. “You come out and give it 100 percent, and you get out what you put in.”
Mulliken noted that teams he’s coached in the past have always had a “scrappy” identity.
“The one thing that I will have is…an aggressive team,” he said. …“We’ll push the ball and we’ll get after people. I don’t believe in playing a lot of zone — I want to try to control the tempo of the game.”
Land O’ Lakes is coming off a 14-11 (2-4 district) mark in 2016. The new coach will have to replace five seniors from last year’s squad, including top scorers Makela Canada (12.4 points per game) and Gabby Mills (11.4 points per game).
With the team in a rebuilding stage, Mulliken said his first year as Land O’ Lakes High’s coach will be a “learning experience” for both the players and coaches.
While it’s too soon to attach a win-loss goal for 2017, Mulliken is more focused on making sure the team just “gets better every day.”
“You can go all season and not win a single game, but you can have growth and learn a lot of things about yourself,” Mulliken said. “It’s really up to the girls and the coaching staff with what we’re going to do with this team.
“We’re going to put in a lot of work.”
Makala Canada (12.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.7 assists per game, 1.9 steals per game)
Gabby Mills (11.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.1 blocks per game)
Breana Barnes (5.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.9 assists per game)
Lily Lazar (5.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG)