When Nate Vera took over the Forest Hill boys basketball program last season, the Falcons were mired in a decade-long slump.
Rarely a district championship contender during that time, Forest Hill bottomed out two seasons ago when it failed to win a game.
Vera, at 24 one of the youngest head coaches in the county, acknowledges the program’s past struggles and is determined to overcome them.
“I just want to bring a winning attitude to a program that never really has had it,” he said.
He’s gotten off to a promising start. Though the Falcons finished 3-23 last season and are 2-14 this year, Vera is confident his team is heading in the right direction, both on the court and in the classroom.
“I’m trying to establish the mentality of not only building better basketball, but building better young men,” he said. “We’ve established that through some tough discipline, we can get these guys focused on other goals beyond basketball. It’s not just about wins and losses, but about more success in life.”
Vera, the 11th grade student dean at Forest Hill, is a positive example of that.
A former point guard at Park Vista, he went on to play college basketball at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Just four months after graduation, Vera accepted the head coaching position at Forest Hill.
“My goal was to bring a college mentality to the high school level,” he said.
Helping him accomplish that is an equally young coaching staff composed of former Palm Beach County high school basketball players. Vera’s former Park Vista teammate, Nathaniel Burphy, is the Falcons’ junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach. Boca Raton’s Greg Westry also is an assistant, as is Wellington Christian’s John Saint Juste.
All are in their 20s.
A young staff like Forest Hill’s relates well to student-athletes, said Ron Kotouch, a former strength and conditioning coach at Palm Beach Atlantic whom Vera lured away to Forest Hill.
“Outside of practice, coach Vera will come into a gym class where his basketball players are and he’ll participate in a 3-point contest,” Kotouch said. “The kids can’t beat him. I think they’re looking up to a coach like that. It’s one thing to be trying to preach something to your student-athletes without showing them. He brings both things to the table.”
Vera’s players appreciate his background and dedication and hope to learn from his example.
“Since he played at the next level, we know what it takes to get to the next level,” senior guard Jeushawn Patterson said. “It’s very useful.”
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