Like a fast break, Murray County basketball coach Greg Linder’s success has been swift and seamless.

Not nine months after being appointed a first-time head coach, Linder has guided his alma mater to the sectional round of the Class 4A playoffs.

He’s the winningest rookie coach in 72 years of Murray County basketball. And a win over Tucker on Friday will make Linder the second Murray coach since 1968 to pile up 25 or more wins in a season.

The last coach to do that? It was Kenneth Ross, who won a state championship that year. The school’s gym was later named in his honor.

At 33, Linder’s already in rarefied company in Indians coaching history.

“This season has been very gratifying,” said the coach, whose team has won 13 in a row. “These young men worked hard to get where we’re at right now.”

Above all, Linder is about his players.

From the first day of practice in October, solidarity has been the recurring motif. The coach has hosted functions at his house. They’ve eaten together. They’ve made knowing each other the first priority.

“I wanted to lay a foundation of teamwork and unity from the beginning,” Linder said. “I said that each member of this team had to trust his teammates. We discussed how important that would be for us to be successful.”

Linder says the togetherness theme has made a marked difference in the win column.

“Relationships we’ve built off the floor have helped us on the basketball floor,” he explained. “Everyone on this team has a role to play — and that idea started off the floor.”

In practice, Linder can be both jovial and forceful, making sure the lesson pierces its target. During and after games, he is equal parts teacher, technician, supporter, father and brother.

Linder’s mentor and high school coach, Jim Gaylor, has become a fan himself.

“You just can’t know how proud I am of the success they’re having up there,” said Gaylor, who racked up 154 wins from 1989-98.

At Murray, Linder played three seasons at point guard for Ross and his senior year for Gaylor. He credits Gaylor for laying the bedrock he has taken with him to the head coaching ranks: dogged man-to-man defense.

“I had to learn man-to-man for the first time as a senior,” Linder recalled. “It was a whole new learning curve.”

Add to that the defensive philosophy he absorbed while serving as an assistant under former coach Kerry Wildes for seven years.

“Coach Wildes taught me the press and matchup zone (defense),” he said. “I utilize a lot of the principles I learned from him. I’d known man-to-man, but when he came in and taught the matchup, it was all out of the zone. I found that to be a great hybrid.”

The cross-pollination of philosophies has been golden for the Indians (24-4), who limit opponents to 54.3 points a game. They have held teams to 55 points or fewer 14 times this season.

“Defense and rebounding win games,” said the coach, whose group averages more than 28 rebounds a night. “You can have a bad shooting night and still win.”

Linder once told head football coach Bill Napier he wanted to be a football coordinator and a head basketball coach. He became defensive coordinator three years ago and was named head coach on the hardwood when Wildes stepped down in June.

Check and check.

“It’s a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I’d set my goals, and being a basketball coach was one I set for myself professionally. I’m excited about everything and look forward to it every day.”

On game day, Linder will start focusing on the tip-off “around lunch time,” he said. He will try to work out trouble spots in advance.

“I’ll go over our game plan,” he said. “Then I’ll start looking over hypothetical situations: What we will do in this situation and what we will do in that situation. I’m thinking ahead of things that could go wrong.”

Not much has. This month alone, the Indians won their first district title in 12 years and their first state tourney game in six.

“We’ve always known we might not be able to outrun or outjump people,” Linder said, “but we will outwork them.”

Said Gaylor: “I told somebody the other night it must be something in the water that makes those kids as tough and hard-nosed as they are, and gives them the strong-willed determination to play hard and get after you.”

Linder said the 70-63 win over Eastside before a raucous home crowd Friday night in Chatsworth validated the passion he has for his vocation.

“Games like Friday with that crowd and that enthusiasm,” he finished, “games like that are why you do the things you do and why you coach in the first place.”

— Larry Fleming contributed to this report.

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