HAMPTON ——In three decades as Hampton's basketball coach, Walter Brower has won a bunch of games — 528 and counting — along with two state championships. He's learned plenty along the way, including knowing when to put aside any traces of ego.
This season, his 30th, Brower has had some health issues that have forced him to take a seat. As in, literally. He's still the Crabbers' head coach, and he's still at every game on the bench. But in a chair, looking more like an assistant, while longtime aide Eric Brown runs the show.
"I'm very fortunate," said Brower, whose team goes against King's Fork in the Eastern Region semifinals Saturday night. "I've got a guy I can depend on."
Brower's health problems began the first week in December, when he was hit with a stomach virus that made its way through the Crabbers' locker room. He looked horrible on the night of Dec. 6 at Woodside, but he was there. "They'd have to cart me out on a stretcher first," Brower said that night. While Brower sat, Brown was on his feet yelling instructions.
Then, Brower developed back spasms that made standing for any length of time problematic. So given that he had a veteran assistant who he says knows the system as well as he does, and given that the team was winning, why change things?
"He does a lot of the coaching during the summer anyway at team camps and a lot different programs we go through," Brower said. "Several years ago, I started letting Eric and Walter (Brower Jr., another veteran assistant) do that. I figured, OK, it's a better chance for me to evaluate the kids.
"I've been under a doctor's care and he said it was OK for me to continue coaching. I just can't stand as much, that's the only thing. There's no structural damage and I should be OK once the season's over and I get a chance to rest. I've really been blessed, all these years of coaching and no physical problems."
One of the stranger rules basketball has is how coaches must be positioned on the sideline. Only one is allowed to stand during the game, and it has to be the same one from start to finish. In other words, it would not be allowed for Brower to stand the first quarter, Brown to stand the second, etc.
At an imposing 6-foot-4 — the size-lacking Crabbers could use him under the boards — Brown has been a part of Hampton's basketball program since he was a player in the early 1990s. He graduated in '94 and immediately joined Brower's staff. He left for one year, when he joined Ed Huckaby at Fishburne Military School, but came back.
As for standing instead of sitting, Brown, 36, feels just as comfortable.
"I love it," he said. "I love having the responsibility on me. The guys want us to believe in them, and I want them to believe in me. The kids are used to it — they've seen me standing all summer long. The coaches around the district aren't surprised. It only looks different to the public.
"We don't look at it as a huge deal. It's just something we've tried this year, and it's worked out. You know how superstitious coaches are, so we're keeping it."
Brower, who won't reveal his age, has heard the rumors that he's phasing himself out grooming Brown as his successor. That second part might be true, at least somewhere down the line, but Brower insists he's made no plans to step down.
"Definitely not," he said. "When (junior) Anthony Barber, those young kids came in, one thing I told them was that I'd be here until they graduate."
Eastern Region semifinals
At Scope in Norfolk
•Kecoughtan vs. Norview, 3 p.m.
•King's Fork vs. Hampton, 7 p.m.
•Princess Anne vs. Lake Taylor, 1
•Maury vs. Woodside, 5