Chris Carswell likes to describe his coaching style as a fusion of old school and new school basketball.
He wears the fashionable shoes. He bodies up with his players on the hardwood. He’s approachable and relatable, his jovial nature and upbeat personality lending well for a strong flow of communication.
He’s also seasoned at 41 years old, a former 6-foot-7 star at Eastern Kentucky University who had a tryout with the Phoenix Suns before playing overseas in London.
His youthful exuberance and his experience proved to be the perfect blend for the Fort Walton Beach boys basketball program, who promoted the assistant coach on Wednesday to replace John Lavin at the helm.
“I think I’m right in the middle of old school and new school,” Carswell said. “I’m always out there playing with them, right there with them at 5 in the morning working out.
“I think I’m relatable to the kids. They know what I’ve done and I recognize what they’re trying to do. I laugh with them but am also serious, so they respect that.”
Back in his high school playing days in Georgia, Carswell was a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double machine. He then starred at then Okaloosa-Walton Community College for a year before playing at a junior college in Tennessee. Later he finished his collegiate career at Eastern Kentucky, where he was good for around six points and seven rebounds a night before graduating in 2003.
What followed was a trip overseas to London, where he was player-coach. He later helmed the boys basketball program at Banneker High School in Georgia from 2013-2016, and was an assistant in Decatur for a year before coming to Fort Walton Beach as an assistant.
Now, as the head coach, he’s ready to infuse some new life into a Vikings program that finished 12-15 last year.
“The style I love is the style I played back in college – the old Loyola Marymount run and gun. Destruction,” Carswell said. “The kids will love it. The fans will love. It’s about bringing that excitement I haven’t really seen in the area. Now we just have to get to work and roll up our sleeves.”
Rolling up their sleeves means hitting up the middle school feeder basketball programs.
“The biggest thing I want is the kids to stay home,” Carswell said. “The kids that are supposed to come to Fort Walton Beach need to stay at Fort Walton Beach. With this system they’re gonna love it. I’m gonna go to these feeder programs and kind of show them the little stuff they’ll be seeing. And they’ll know I’m gonna be fair, honest, care about them and go the extra mile for them. I’m going to let them know that there’s coaching going on at Fort Walton Beach and you’ll receive coaching experience from a college player.
“It’s also about getting out in the community and making sure that support is there. I love being upbeat and positive. I’m ready to go.”
The 5 a.m. voluntary workouts are a good start to asserting his style.
“It’s something they had to get used to,” Carswell said. “Once I got the two main guys – Calvin Payton and Micah Straham – to come, the other kids bought in. They know what they’re getting into, what needs to be done.”