Penley steps down as University High coach; Rice, Story take over programs

Jeff Birchfield • Sep 29, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Justin Penley has stepped down as University High basketball coach, part of a ripple effect for the boys’ and girls’ programs.

Herman Rice, the UH girls coach for the last two seasons, will take over as boys coach. Former David Crockett coach Marty Story was named the girls coach at the end of last season.

Stating a desire to spend more time with family, particularly with his 8-year-old son — who is an aspiring basketball player — Penley mulled over the decision the past couple of months.

He felt the timing was right with the Bucs coming off a season where they went 29-6 and swept Watauga Valley Conference, District 1-A and Region 1-A championships. They advanced to the TSSAA state tournament for the first time since 2008.

Penley, who was named the Johnson City Press/Kingsport Times News All-Northeast Tennessee coach of the year in March, said he never wanted his legacy to be a coach who left when the cupboard was bare. It’s far from it as the Bucs return three starters, including Kaleb Meredith, who averaged nearly 19 points per game, from last year’s state tournament team.

“The program is healthy. This all will make the transition go much more smoothly,” Penley said. “For everything there is a season; I feel the timing is right for me to step away from the day-to-day basketball coaching duties. The two most important things in my life are faith and family.

“A large part of this decision is my strong desire to spend more time with my family, particularly as my son grows as a young man and as a basketball player himself. I do not want to look back years from now with regrets on time passed by.”

Penley remains a part of the University High faculty and will continue to serve as golf coach. He added he’s not announcing a retirement, just taking a step back from the time-consuming role of basketball coach.

During his 12 seasons as UH coach, Penley accumulated more than 200 wins and his teams made nine region appearances. The Bucs advanced to three region finals, winning two championships. They also made two TSSAA Class A state tournament appearances. More than the success on the court, Penley hopes he’s made a bigger impact off it.

“I am proud of what we as a program have been able to accomplish, but even more important than wins and losses and championships won is the potential a coach has to have positive impact on the lives of young people,” he said. “My goal every season is for my players to grow and mature as players as well as men.

“It is my sincere hope when players graduate from University High, they have improved their basketball skills — but also their time-management skills, work ethic, leadership and character. I want them to look back over their career and to have enjoyed their time in my program while making lasting, positive life-long memories.”

Penley has given them an example of work ethic, earning a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from ETSU in 2018 while coaching and teaching full time. He has also served in a larger administrative role when needed.

He had high praise for Rice, noting a vast improvement in the girls’ program from his first season to the second year. Assistant coach Jeff Meredith remains with the boys’ program, making it an easy transition.


Rice coached many of the boys’ players in middle school. His son, Zach, plays on the team, which also includes returning point guard Marshall Fleenor and forward Mason Broome.

“He has taken care of me for sure,” Rice said about Penley. “He’s had a successful career for 12 years. He’s not only taught the game of basketball, but he’s a high-quality man. He’s a wonderful person.

“My son plays on the team and I’ve stayed in touch with the kids. Where I coached a lot of them in middle school, the transition is easy for me. It’s an honor to come back and finish with some of them in high school.”

Rice said to expect the same style of play, including a combination of strong outside shooting and attacking the basket on offense. There will be continue to be an emphasis on quick defense, with the tallest player standing around 6-foot-2.


Story, a forward on the ETSU teams that won four straight Southern Conference championships from 1988-92, served as an assistant on the University High girls team last season. Prior to that, he spent seven years at David Crockett — including four as head coach.

“It was challenging being an assistant after being a head coach for four years, but it was good in the same sense because I got see someone else’s style of coaching,” Story said. “I think it helped me tweak the way I coach now. Being an assistant, it gave me a chance to reflect on some things to get better results."

He takes over a Lady Bucs team that went 15-14 last season. The Lady Bucs lose a host of seniors from that squad. Two returning players will be 6-foot-1 senior Amari Johnson and sophomore Delaney Trosin.

“We’re not going to be as talented as we were without the experience,” Story said. “I think we do have a girls who will just work as hard as last year’s group. Where the youth and inexperience comes into play, we’re going to have to do a good job with managing game play to make sure we stay in these games.”

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