KNOX, Pa. (EYT) – Greg Heath has won a lot of basketball games in his time as head coach of the Keystone Panthers boys basketball program and now he’s doing it with a familiar face on the bench.
Heath is one of just three coaches in District 9 history to win over 600 games in his career, joining Elk County Catholic’s Aaron Straub and one of his biggest coaching mentors, Don Stemmerich, as the only three D9 coaches to reach the milestone.
Despite all of the District 9 titles, the reputation as one of the greatest high school basketball coaches in D9 and in Pennsylvania history, his focus is never on winning basketball games. Sure, winning is fun, but what he has done for the Keystone Area School District is more impactful than just winning some games.
For 37 years, Coach Heath has remained loyal to his alma mater as head coach, and his impact and legend only grows over the years. He got his start as head man in the 1984-1985 season, and has remained in the same role ever since. One of the early players he coached was Jason Say, a 6’6″ big man who went on to Lebanon Valley College and won the NCAA Division III National Title.
And now, Coach Heath finds himself coaching Jason’s son, Colin, a Senior who just may end up embarking on his own journey through college basketball.
Jason Say didn’t spend much time on the bench with the Panthers in his playing years, but this year, he’s there as a volunteer assistant coach.
“I was fortunate enough to win two D9 titles with Coach Heath, and these were actually his first two,” Jason Say explained. “Back when I was playing for him, there was a clear boundary between him being my coach and me as one of his players. Eventually, he became a great friend and one of my favorite people to play basketball with.”
The team of Say, Heath, and Jeremy McCool, a former Keystone star athlete who went on to play collegiate basketball for the University of Vermont, were a feared 3v3 trio around Clarion and Venango Counties. With Heath’s lockdown defense and perimeter shooting, Say’s length, hustle, and rebounding, and McCool’s athleticism and playing making ability, the trio won their fair share of tournaments over their time playing together.
It may be odd for some to think about Greg Heath, the basketball player; however, he was a former Division III hooper at Westminster College and a dang good player before he began coaching.
Through the years, he has seen the incorporation of a three-point line, which has changed the game for the better in his mind. Additionally, the game has gotten less physical and become a sport with more finesse and skill. Despite these changes, Coach Heath has always made adjustments and found ways to keep his program competitive.
“I think one of the most impressive things to me is he always gets the most out of every player and every team that he has,” said Jason Say. “He knows how to motivate each player differently and how to change his approach each season to his personnel. This is not an easy task when you play for a small public school, but he always makes it work and gets so much out of his players.”
One of the highlights of Coach Heath’s career was having the chance to coach his own son, Garrett, who is the all-time leading scorer in Keystone history and one of the top scorers in the history of D9. Garrett played some college basketball at Clarion University and is now involved with the Keystone youth basketball programs.
When chatting with Coach Heath about who introduced him to basketball and some of his closest friends and colleagues within the game over the years, he had a few key people to mention.
“My father instilled a love for basketball into me. He is the biggest reason why I love the game so much to this day,” Heath said.
In addition to his father, Jim McConnell, a former Keystone School District administrator, and girls basketball coach, is someone he is thankful for. McConnell is a long time friend of Heath’s and recommended him for the job back in the mid 1980s. Their friendship only grew from there.
Coach Heath especially has enjoyed his coaching battles with Aaron Straub of Elk County Catholic and Don Stemmerich over the years. These three have combined for over 2,000 wins in their coaching careers, proving they are some of the brightest minds in the sport our area has ever and will ever see.
“It means a lot to me to still be coaching,” said Heath. “It is still very fun, and I enjoy the social interaction the game presents. Most of all, I have enjoyed the terrific young men I have had the opportunity to coach. Those accolades and wins are theirs, and I tip my cap to them for their accomplishments over the years.”
Heath does not approach each season looking for a new accolade or hoping for one key victory over another. Instead, he is concerned with the next game ahead and trying to guide his team to become a better one by the end of each season.
“It brings me the most satisfaction if I see the team improve as the season goes on,” said Heath. “When I see that and see them develop as players and as a team, that is a great feeling.”
Another one of Heath’s favorite aspects of basketball is the opportunity to play spoiler or win a game that maybe should not happen. Over the years, stealing a win in Union against Don Stemmerich was always a great feeling as his teams were well-coached and prepared to play.
Outside of basketball, Heath is a lover of American history. In particular, he enjoys learning about and studying the Civil War. He has taken many trips to Gettysburg and other battle sites, with a considerable fascination in the Civil War history in Pennsylvania. Just a few short years ago, he retired from his position as a social studies teacher for Keystone, but as for coaching, he still is hoping to do this for as long as he finds fun and enjoyment in it.
“I continue to see players getting better in the summer and committing to being better players,” said Heath. “As long as I can see that and feel they are bought into this program and getting better, I hope to keep coaching.”
Coach Heath remains a true student of the game and cites Villanova’s Jay Wright as a coach he admires on the national stage for always getting the most of his players to help build a great team and impressive program. He also has been a loyal fan of North Carolina, his favorite team, over the years.
Overall, the legacy and legend of Coach Heath is continuing to grow, and Jason Say offered more thoughts about his impact in the community.
“People absolutely love him and say nothing, but great things about him said Say. “I have never once heard anyone say he picks favorites on the team because he truly doesn’t do that. He gives everyone a fair shake, and myself Colin and the school are blessed to have a man and coach like him as a leader and mentor.”
No matter the wins or losses, Coach Heath has grown the game. He continues to study and embrace changes in basketball. He gets the most out of the talent and has the wins and accolades to prove it. Most importantly, he has helped shape a lot of young men into great people, and that is more important than how many games, trophies, or accolades have flown through the Panthers program since 1984.