FLORENCE – As Ken Spencer prepares to go through his first season as the Wilson High School boys’ basketball coach, he relies on his experience.
While a student at what was then known as UNC Pembroke State, Spencer did more than captain the Braves to a Carolinas Conference crown. All the while, he participated in ROTC. What happened after that was not only growth in the sport Spencer loved but also in the Army Reserve, in which he served from 1990 until 2000.
After graduating with his first degree (business management), Spencer was also commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army.
“I almost took an active-duty commission after the officer basic course,” he said. “I was ranked pretty high in my class (at Fort Lee, Virginia). But I took a reserve commission.”
It made sense as his next step.
“It was an opportunity to be part of an organization that I thought would lead to something great after school,” Spencer said. “I thought of it as a positive thing to do: serve my country in a certain capacity.”
Spencer, who returned to school also to earn a degree in physical education and teaching certificate, talked about the mindset it takes to be in the Army Reserve.
“What I carried most from it was the humbleness it really takes to serve in the Army,” Spencer said. “I think you have to be a really humble individual to deal with the lifestyle that it takes to be in it. I admire the people on active duty who do it every day. It’s unbelievable what they do every day, going out and fighting for our freedom and getting deployed.”
Spencer then talked about the friendships he gained from being in the Army Reserve. Meanwhile, he was working his way up the coaching ladder. After coaching for a couple of seasons at Scotland County (North Carolina), Spencer took over at Marlboro County for eight years. During that time, he coached the Bulldogs to three state finals and won it all in 2001 in Class 4A.
He left the Army Reserve a year earlier.
“What being in the Army Reserve did was teach me discipline,” Spencer said. “You have to discipline yourself first and then deal with the discipline it takes to do your job.
“A disciplined man is a free man. And what I mean by that is if you’re disciplined enough to do what you’ve got to do, then you have the freedom to do what you want to do later on.”
And it also taught Spencer the value of teamwork.
“Be on time,” he said. “Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, because you have people counting on you. And when you’re part of the team – in the Army, you are part of a team – that teaches you the things that it takes to make a team successful.”
After Marlboro County, Spencer was the associate head coach at Winston-Salem State for four years. Then he was the coach for two years at St. Augustine’s. He was a South Carolina State assistant for four years (associate head coach the final two) before coaching Fayetteville State for three seasons.
And now he’s back in the high school game coaching at Wilson, taking over for current athletic director Derrick McQueen, who coached the Tigers to two consecutive runner-up finishes.
“You stress discipline as a coach, because it takes discipline to execute,” Spencer said. “I really believe it takes execution to run sets and plays and remember those things. Those are some of the same things you take from the military.
“And remember. The teams that can execute late in the season are the ones who will win come tournament time.”