“His basketball IQ was just unreal to the whole selection committee,” Smith said. “We are elated to have a hall of famer coaching and mentoring our young men. He brings a lot of knowledge, integrity and organization to our program.”
Dunbar did not renew Pullen’s coaching contract after the 2016-17 season. He said then that he was told that Dayton Public Schools wanted to move in a new direction. DPS did not comment about letting Pullen go, but he still wanted to coach.
Darnell Hoskins, the former Chaminade Julienne and Dayton Flyers star and Thurgood Marshall coach, asked Pullen to join his staff at Middletown. Pullen assisted Hoskins there for four years and moved to Northmont with Hoskins last year. At 68, Pullen is ready to run his own program again.
“It was just a combination of several things,” he said. “One was my love of basketball. I never gave that up. The Trotwood opportunity came up and I still had the fire in me.”
Pullen watched 45-50 non-football players participate in three open gyms this week. He doesn’t know many names yet, but he loves the turnout. The top returning player for the Rams is junior Timothy Carpenter, who quarterbacks the football team. Next week conditioning and weight lifting begins and Pullen will learn more about the prospects for the season.
“Right now the ball’s just bouncing and that feeds right into what they love,” he said. “I’ll see who’s determined to work for it and wants to succeed at this game and wants to be the best that their physical body can make them be.”
Pullen assembled a staff of experienced coaches and young coaches who he wants to give an opportunity to like the one he got as freshman coach when he was 22.
His varsity assistants are Albert Powell, who was his longtime assistant at Dunbar, and Andre Yates, a former Division I college player and a member of the 2012 undefeated team. Gary Akbar, another former Division I player who played on the 2012 team, will coach the freshman team. Longtime Trotwood coach Carl Blanton will coach the JV team. Pullen said it’s important to have a mix of ages on the staff.
“They look at me as an old man, but they look at the young guys as just a few years removed from high school,” Pullen said. “I want them to see this is somewhere basketball could take me if I do a great job with my grades and work hard on it.”
Pullen knows he will have athletic teams like he did at Dunbar, but he won’t run the same frenetic style that Rockhold won with.
“I’m not used to the organized chaos that Rocky ran, which was a great system for his kids, and he did an excellent job of doing it,” Pullen said. “But we’re still going to make defense our base and pressure people and get up and down the floor.”
The hunger that Smith saw in Pullen during the interview is similar to a hunger Pullen sees and knows exists at Trotwood.
“The key to success I’ve had at Dunbar and the success I know I’m going to have at Trotwood is the fact that the kids are hungry,” he said. “They’re used to winning. They’re strong mentally and physically, and because of the the style Rocky played, I know they’re go-getters.”
Pullen said he has no timeframe for how long he will coach the Rams. But when it’s over, he wants to leave on his own terms.
“The only regret – I wish I could have left on my own terms,” Pullen said of when Dunbar let him go. “That’s the part I think kind of irritates me from time to time. But this job’s gonna make me get over it.”