Kowboys’ Nate Alexander keeps piling up wins, titles

Osceola High School Kowboys Basketball Coach Nate Alexander, standing, directs his team from the side of the court.

Regardless of the occupation, the formula for success is pretty much the same.  

Hire intelligent, hard-working people with character and give them the resources needed to do their jobs.  But it also doesn’t hurt to have a little luck tossed in, as was the case when Nate Alexander came to Osceola High School.

Alexander, 36, is the highly successful head boys basketball coach at Osceola, where he has compiled a .792 winning percentage, a record of 145-38, and two state championship titles in just six years at the helm.

The luck portion comes from the fact that Alexander never really thought he would end up at Osceola or would even be a basketball coach.

“I had my teaching certificate and was recently married when we were thinking about relocating from Ohio,” Alexander recalls. “We heard that there was a Job Fair for Florida Teachers in Tampa and we went to it.  I interviewed with three for four schools but the first one was with Osceola High School and something about that interview just stuck out in my mind. It just felt right, like it was my destiny to go there.”

Upon being hired, the Ohio University grad wanted to coach – but not basketball.

“I played quarterback and safety in high school and really saw myself coaching football. As soon as I got on campus, I contacted football coach Jeff Rolson, but he told me he already have a full staff.”

But as luck would have it, an opening existed in basketball and Alexander was hired to fill out the staff.

“I spent several years under a couple of really good head coaches and learned the game,” Alexander said.  “When Steve Mason left the head job, I was elevated to head coach after the 2012-13 season.”

Alexander found success immediately, making it all the way to regionals and going 19-8 in his first season before losing a 86-85 heartbreaker to Haines City. The following year the team went 21-5, advancing to the state title game, where they lost to Ely, 72-60.

After making it to the regional semifinals the following year, Alexander’s team won it all in 2016-17, going 30-2 and beating Wekiva 59-47 in the Class 9A championship game.   “That was a special group of kids,” Alexander recalls.  “We had some veteran players who remembered the sting of losing the state title two years earlier, but we also had some really good young talent that formed the basis of our title team from last year.”

The 2017-18 version of the Kowboys, led by 6-9 junior Omar Payne, were certainly poised to make a run at another state title. But the team lost a narrow 57-54 decision in the regional final to powerful Oak Ridge – a team went on to win the state championship by double digits.

Alexander would go into last season feeling pretty good about his team’s chances to again compete for a state championship. He had a senior-laden team that included Payne, brothers Isaiah and Jeremiah Palermo and slick point guard Josh Marte.

That optimism was quickly dashed that summer when Payne contacted Alexander and said he was being recruited by Montverde Academy, a private school near Clermont that was a national high school basketball power.

“It never occurred to me in a million years, that I would lose a player to Montverde,” Alexander said. “They recruit on a national level, and I never thought we would have a player they would be interested in. When Omar came to me he had tears in his eyes and said he was confused on what to do. We talked it through and decided it was in his best interests to seize that opportunity. Selfishly, I wanted him to stay but I knew it was a great opportunity for Omar, and it was the right thing to do to encourage him to go.”

Still Osceola had the makings of a good team that got a lot better when 6-5 power forward Diwun Black arrived on campus. Black, a transfer student from the state of Mississippi, was already a football commit as an outside linebacker/defensive end to the University of Florida, but some transfer paperwork resulted in him not being cleared to play football for Osceola.  

When the FHSAA finally cleared him for the second semester, he joined the basketball team.

“Last season was probably the most difficult, yet most rewarding season of them all,” Alexander noted. “Losing Omar before the start of the season was obviously the big thing, but we also had some pretty head-strong players who clashed with each other and sometimes the coaching staff on a daily basis.”

The team started out slowly, and when they got swept in three games at the prestigious City of Palms Tournament – losing three games by a combined 66 points – Osceola found itself with a 4-5 record.

“Definitely was a low point.  We had a losing record and was scheduled to play in the Battle of the Villages, another holiday tournament that featured some great teams,” Alexander said.  It was at that tournament, where Osceola turned its season around.  The team won the tournament by a combined total of five points – beating Stranahan (59-58), The Villages Charter (80-78) and Miami Christian (65-62) to claim the title.

“At that point, it just felt like we came together as a team. I knew we would still have to get by Oak Ridge in the regionals but felt we just might have a chance to accomplish something special,” Alexander said.

The Kowboys would lose a road game to George Jenkins a few weeks later, but would win 11 straight games after that to set up a regional final rematch with Oak Ridge.  This time the Kowboys would prevail, 47-39, to advance to the state tournament where they would cruise to a 12-point win over South Miami in the semifinals and then claim the school’s third state championship and second under Alexander – beating Wellington – 50-43.

Alexander refuses to take much credit for Osceola’s incredible run of success.

“It’s never been about me, it’s the players that make a program and coaching staff look good,” he said. “I have been incredibly blessed to have some outstanding players come through our program through the years. From the beginning, all I really tried to do was change the way the kids looked at themselves and tried to create a culture where they understood the importance of taking both responsibility and control of their own situations.”

He also said being around coaching legend Ed Kershner has helped. Alexander says Kershner, who won a state record 901 games and state titles at both Osceola and Oviedo, has been a tremendous mentor and asset.  “Coach Kershner has been an incredible influence and help to me and my career. Although has been retired for a few years, we still talk on a regular basis. There is no one better to get advice and basketball wisdom from.”

Alexander also credited the winning culture at Osceola High School for playing a key role in his success.

“Our Athletic Director Jim Bird has done a sensational job of giving us the support and resources all our sports need to be successful. You said something about success and doing a great job, but I might only be the third or fourth best coach at our high school. Coach Doug Nichols has developed and maintained a state power in football, Coach Bird develops state champions in wrestling every year, Coach Birchler’s baseball team is outstanding and so are many of our other programs. One of the cool things about this school is that we all support each other and I think that fosters a positive and winning attitude for our entire athletic program.”

With two state titles, three regional championships, multiple district championships and an average of 24 wins a season, one might assume that some other more high profile programs may come in and try to poach Alexander away from Osceola High School.

To date, Alexander says that hasn’t happened nor is he particularly interested in overtures from other schools.

“I really haven’t been contacted by anyone but that is certainly OK with me,” Alexander said. “We (my wife and children) love it here. There are a lot of things more important than a higher profile job or making more money. The ability to help kids that come from tough backgrounds, working in an environment where you feel a sense of family, the satisfaction of being some place where you feel like you not only belong but are appreciated. All those are more important and it’s something we have here at OHS.”