CSU student veteran taking reins of high school hoops team

Julius Philpot
Julius Philpot has never been a head coach but he's eager to share his love and knowledge of the game with players at Liberty Common High School. (Photos by John Eisele)

Julius Philpot has never been a head coach at the high school level. Heck, he’s never been an assistant coach at the high school level. Or the middle school or elementary school level, for that matter.

But Philpot has an undeniable love of basketball and a passion for working with young people. And that’s why this Air Force veteran and current Colorado State University student double-majoring in psychology in the College of Natural Sciences and health and exercise science in the College of Health and Human Sciences was chosen to be the head coach of the Liberty Common High School boys basketball team.

“I had a stack of applications for this job, and a lot of them had head coaching experience, but Julius had what we’re looking for,” said Dan Knab (BS Human Development and Family Studies ’97), athletic director at Liberty Common, a Fort Collins charter school. “I was in Air Force ROTC at CSU, and I’ve got two boys in the Air Force, so Julius and I hit it off right away. There’s just an instant trust with him, and when you’re looking to hire a coach, that’s what you look for.”

A love of learning, basketball

Philpot, 30, grew up in a military family and always figured he would end up in the armed forces. He was a standout basketball and track athlete at Land O’ Lakes (Florida) High School, and he carried his love of basketball into his eight-year career working in security at bases around the country, including Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

“I did a lot of snow removal,” he said, smiling at the memory. “It used to get down to minus-50 in Minot, so I spent a lot of time studying civil engineering and other topics.”

Philpot already holds a bachelor’s in criminal justice and an associate’s degree in construction technology from American Military University. When he wasn’t working or studying, he was playing basketball. He was good enough to earn a tryout with the NBA’s developmental league, and in 2013 made the all-Air Force team.

Discovering his passion for coaching

He considered pursuing a college basketball scholarship after leaving the Air Force but figured he could better utilize his passion for the game by coaching. A lifelong learner, Philpot had spent time in Fort Collins while stationed in Cheyenne, and figured CSU would be the right place to continue his education.

Julius Philpot
Julius Philpot will graduate in December with degrees in psychology and health and exercise science.

He quickly returned to the court, playing in pickup contests while officiating games in the area to earn some extra money. That experience helped him connect with local club teams the Rocky Mountain Fever and React Fast, where he got his first coaching experience.

“When you coach those club teams, you not only have to relate to the players, you have to build a rapport with the parents,” he said. “I try to be funny and happy – never miserable – and be positive with the players. I love basketball, and I want my players to share that love.”

At CSU, Philpot has benefited from services and programs in Adult Learner and Veterans Services and the Black/African American Cultural Center. When he isn’t playing or coaching basketball, he’s busy working on adding two more degrees to his resume.

“I wanted to study psychology because it’s an important tool in understanding youth and why they make the decisions they do,” he said. “And I wanted to study health and exercise science to learn more about kinesiology and nutrition, figuring that would help me in coaching.”

Room to grow

He didn’t waste any time preparing himself or his team for the upcoming season, which officially begins later this month, by holding regular open gym sessions at Liberty Common throughout the summer and fall. The bar is set pretty low – the Class 3A Eagles struggled to a 2-17 record last year, but have several returning players for 2019-20.

“We’re not really about wins and losses, but we are about doing things excellently,” Knab said. “With Julius we’ve got someone who can communicate the process, and the wins are going to come. He has a high basketball IQ, and when you get that along with the ability to communicate with young people, you’re going to see results.”

As for Philpot, he can’t wait for practices to begin.

“I don’t talk to young people as if they are lower than me – I try to communicate with them on their level,” he said. “I may not have head coaching experience, but other coaches won’t be able to relate to these kids as well as me.

“I don’t claim to know everything, but I’ll learn, and I’m hungry. I tell my players all the time, ‘This is your team, let’s make it as good as it can be.’ ”