Up for the Challenge

Tyler Heffernan | Sea Devil Journalist 

Growing up, Lori Drake had a checklist for her life. She didn't flip-flop between aspirations. As a former UNC Wilmington women's basketball standout, a two-year European professional and now the current head coach of the Cape Fear Community College women's basketball team, Drake is one of the lucky few whose dreams withstood years of trial and still succeeded.

"I always had a vision in life, even when I was just a kid," Drake said. "When I was like 7 years old, my mom had the NCAA rules posted on my wall—not kidding you—just because that's what I wanted. I want to play college basketball. I want to play professionally. I want to coach. These were all visions that I had."

Her basketball pedigree helped her land the position as pioneer of the first women's hoops team in CFCC history. She'll try to earn the college's and Wilmington's support, but she already has an impressive list of references, including nationally renowned basketball trainer Ganon Baker.

"She's the epitome of what a good coach should be," Baker said. "She demands respect. She doesn't read it in a book; she actually played the game at every level. She was a player that had to work for everything she got. Her method is real. It's very genuine. That's a big problem today in sports, because coaches can't relate to kids because it isn't as genuine and passionate as Lori's."

Drake also has the backing of her former UNCW coach Ann Hancock. Hancock said she first met Drake when she was about 10 years old and noted "her shoe size was as big as she was." She followed the developing player throughout her career and became impressed with her work ethic. Drake transferred to the CAA school after spending a season at perennial powerhouse Seward County Community College.

Hancock signed her as a sophomore. During her senior year, Drake led the Seahawks in scoring (13.7) and rebounding (8.1). "She wanted to have the ball in her hands at the end of the game," Hancock said. "She was willing to be the one who took the last shot. She became the hardest worker and one of the best leaders I had during my career at UNCW."

Hancock, a current assistant coach on the East Carolina women's basketball staff, knows the CFCC position will be a challenge, but she expressed the same confidence in Drake as she did when she let Drake pilot the program.

"Being able to build a program from scratch will allow her to really understand all phases," the 2002-03 CAA coach of the year said. "There's nothing like doing it yourself to jump in the fire to learn. She will get tremendous experience from scheduling to recruiting to game strategy. I know she will be successful, because she has been preparing for this opportunity since she started playing the game."

Drake's first day on the job came in mid-July, and she's wasted no time building a foundation for the Sea Devils. Signing day for junior college basketball is April 8. "As of right now, I have eight players on my roster and many, many more wrapped around my pinkie," she said, referring to verbal commitments.

The excitement of starting a new program isn't the only pitch Drake uses on potential recruits. "I always tell them where we're located: 'We're six miles from Wrightsville Beach.' It's a college town, it's a beach town, it's a historic town. And academically, I feel like we have a lot to offer at Cape Fear Community College."

 Coach prestige is another aspect recruits consider, and Drake's resume has helped her to be a beneficiary. "I tell them, 'You know, I've been through every level that you're getting ready to go through.' I can really tell them personally where I'm coming from, because I know," she said. "I've been there; I've done that."

For now, Drake is acting like a "sponge," learning from her CFCC colleagues. "Having coaches like coach (Chris) Libert, (athletic director Robert) McGee, coach (Ryan) Mantlo—having them around every day—whenever I learn something new is a 'wow' moment for me," she said. "I try to learn as much as I can and embrace every moment. My really big 'wow' moments right now are when I'm getting verbal commitments from players, and it just makes me sit back, and be like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm  a college coach. This is awesome.'"

With her checklist of aspirations completed, Drake will have to find a new goal to pursue: a Region 10 championship, for example.