Gooden departed New Haven in June to take over the Lawrence Central program.
“Coach Gooden was one of the best things to happen to me,” Stephens said. “I wanted to coach basketball and he gave me that opportunity to be an assistant coach and see what it was like to be a head coach.”
When Gooden left, Stephens had some soul-searching to do, wondering if he still had the passion for coaching without his mentor.
“It was a big thing for me, I had to consider if it was something I still wanted to do,” Stephens said. “Coach Gooden was one of the big keys in telling me to go after it.”
The 48-year-old Stephens is a 1984 graduate of Harding High School and attended Butler University, where he was a four-year letterwinner in baseball. He is married with three children and one grandchild.
Stephens takes over a New Haven program that has had its fair share of success in recent years. In three seasons under Gooden, the Bulldogs went 54-14 with back-to-back NHC championships in 2013 and 2014.
The 2013 sectional championship for New Haven was the first in 17 years for the program.
The Bulldogs will not be as big as in years past this upcoming season, with players like V.J. Beachem, Kyle Sovine and Steve McElvene all departing the program in recent years.
“We have been lucky the past three years in that we were big,” Stephens said. “We wont be that come this year, but we will be as athletic.”
Do not expect much of a philosophy change with New Haven under Stephens.
“We will still try and pound the ball inside and play good defense and rebound,” Stephens said.