By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
At 26, Clovis native and 1997 Grady High graduate Justin Ashley has already worked under some successful college basketball coaches.
He hopes to continue his progression at West Texas A&M University in Canyon.
Ashley has been hired to replace Russell Vanlandingham as an assistant to Buffaloes head coach Rick Cooper. Vanlandingham left the NCAA Division II and Lone Star Conference South Division program this spring after four seasons to pursue a high school or junior college head coaching position, Cooper said.
Ashley earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish education in 2002 at New Mexico State, serving as an administrative assistant coach thereunder Hall of Famer Lou Henson.
He spent the last two seasons as a graduate assistant under Larry Gipson at LSC North Division member Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Okla., coming in just after the Redmen claimed the 2003 Division II national championship.
“He’s from our part of the country,” Cooper said. “In his short career, he’s had the opportunity to work with some of the best coaches around.”
Although WT struggled at times last season, the Buffs reached the finals of the LSC tournament and, at 16-14, notched the school’s 19th straight winning record — the last 12 under Cooper.
Ashley, who helped J.D. Isler’s Grady Bronchos win a Class 1A state championship in 1995 and earned all-state honors as a senior, said the move wasn’t designed to get him closer to home.
“It just kind of happened,” he said. “I was willing to go anywhere, and this job just came open.
“My experience in the LSC helps me. It’s a very good league.”
He said the Redmen had a healthy respect for Cooper’s program.
“During my two years at Northeastern, we knew WT was always going to make a push late in the year,” Ashley said. “Coach Cooper is a good coach, and his teams always play hard.
“I like the style coach Cooper plays. It was just a good fit.”
Ashley’s duties should be similar to what he had at Northeastern, Cooper said, including recruiting, scouting, practice planning and film breakdown. His on-floor responsibilities will be primarily with WT’s perimeter players.
“He has a great deal of experience with the Lone Star Conference and the competitiveness of basketball in the league,” Cooper said. “He has a sound coaching background with a strong emphasis on defense … and I’m anxious for him to share that knowledge (with) our players.”