By KEVIN HARRIS
FLOYDS KNOBS —
New Floyd Central boys’ basketball coach Mark Lieberman has been looking for one thing from his new players since he became the Highlanders’ boss on May 13 — commitment.
The former Florida High School Athletic Association Coach of the Year and ex-University of Louisville men’s assistant coach says total commitment from his troops is vital if Floyd Central is to turn its fortunes around.
The Highlanders have had only two winning seasons in the last nine years and not captured a sectional championship since 1989 when they made their last Final Four appearance.
“The culture [at Floyd Central] was different than what I’m used to, and it’s not a reflection on any of the former coaches,” Lieberman said. “But in a few of the games I’ve had with these guys, basketball is more of an interest rather than a commitment to them. We’re changing it to making sure it’s a commitment and not just a interest. That’s where you win.
“I told them that there is nothing in the past that matters to me. It’s all about going forward.”
Floyd Central athletic director Jeff Cerqueira thinks Lieberman is the person who can get the much-needed commitment out of the Highlanders to revitalize a program that enjoyed lots of success in the 1970s and 80s under Hall of Fame coach Joe Hinton.
“He wanted to make it a year-round sport, not just a seasonal sport,” Cerqueira said about Lieberman. “That’s one thing I think that we’ve been missing here at Floyd Central is our kids do a lot of other things. But he wanted to change the culture and really make basketball a main emphasis at this school like it used to be in the past.
“Some of the other people that we interviewed did not talk about a year-round program. They wanted the kids to be kids. Well, our kids have been kids for  years and we haven’t won a sectional. So it was time to change things and make the kids more accountable for developing their skills. We’ve got the coach right now who is willing to put that time in to reach that next level.”
This summer, the Floyd Central players have been trying to get accustomed to their new coach, as he has instructed them in practices and coached them in some offseason leagues.
But the main thing Lieberman has had his players go through is an intense strength and conditioning program. Floyd Central has hired ProFormance, a health and fitness company in Louisville, to put the Highlander players through a fitness program.
This summer, ProFormance is training the Highlanders on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week for 1 1/2 hours on each of those days. Lieberman plans on having his players go through the fitness program year-round.
“Strength and conditioning is the most important thing to me,” Lieberman said.
Cerqueira thinks the strength and conditioning program Lieberman has implemented is critical for the boys’ basketball team to move forward.
“It’s a way to try to get the kids to change their bodies and toughen them up a little bit,” Cerqueira said. “I think in years past, we’ve been a little soft and a little bit too comfortable. So he’s making the kids right now uncomfortable and pushing them to their limits with the hopes they are going to take on that challenge and become basketball players.”
Lieberman picked up the significance of strength and conditioning from his former boss, Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino. The two-time NCAA championship coach has always believed in his players being physically fit so they can endure the up-tempo system he has run in his nearly 30-year coaching career.
Along with the importance of his team’s fitness, Lieberman said he learned from Pitino how critical mentally tough players are to a program.
“I learned how relentless he was with a player’s attitude and a player’s conditioning. We want to mimic that,” said Lieberman, who served as a U of L assistant coach for Pitino during the 2010-11 season and the Cardinals’ director of basketball operations during the 2011-12 campaign.
Lieberman is taking a wait-and-see approach on what kind of system he will put in place at Floyd Central. In his past high school coaching experience, Lieberman has had up-tempo teams. But right now, he is evaluating the skills of his players so he can develop a system that can help the Highlanders win some games.
However, Lieberman expects his team to be one particular type of squad.
“We want to be a mentally tough team,” he said. “We want to out-compete the other team. By the fourth quarter, we want to make sure that we know we’re the better team. Whether we play fast or whether we want to run certain things, it won’t matter. We’ll know we are stronger and in better shape than the other team.”
Lieberman had a successful 13-year tenure as the head coach at Monsignor Pace High School in Miami. The South Florida native compiled a 335-95 record at Pace and led the school to four state championships in his tenure. Pace won a Class 3A title in 2003 and three Class 4A crowns in 1999, 2007 and 2008. Plus as Pace’s junior varsity coach in 1996, he helped the program win a Class 4A state championship.
Along with the state championships, Lieberman had three state runner-up teams and 10 Elite Eight appearances as Pace’s head coach. He earned the FHSAA Coach of the Year award three times. Lieberman also was a head coach in the Kentucky Derby Festival Classic in Louisville in 2008 and the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game in 2009 in Miami.
After his two years at U of L, Lieberman returned to South Florida last season to become a men’s assistant coach at his alma mater, Florida International University, for Pitino’s son, Richard Pitino. The younger Pitino is now the head men’s coach at the University of Minnesota.
“I’ve always been in love with teaching the game, so it didn’t matter to me what level I coach. I just love teaching the game of basketball,” Lieberman said. “I’m going to implement my way. I’ve coached overseas, I’ve coached in the McDonald’s All-American Game, I’ve coached in college and I’ve coached the best players in the world. And one thing that’s always consistent is the work ethic and the desire to be great.
“I’m changing the culture one day at a time and to me, I’m looking forward to that.”
Cerqueira thinks Lieberman’s credentials will attract more talented players to Floyd Central and more excitement for the hoops program.
“With his connections, there has been a huge buzz, not only with the kids but the community,” Cerqueira said. “It all goes back to changing the culture of not only our basketball program, but also the way our families and our community view the program.”
• AGE: 42
• HOMETOWN: Hollywood, Fla.
• COLLEGE ALMA MATER: Florida International University, 1995 graduate.
• YEARS AS HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE COACH: 19.
• COACHING EXPERIENCE: 13 years as head coach at Monsignor Pace High School in Miami, compiling a 335-95 record and winning four Florida state championships; assistant men’s basketball coach at University of Louisville in the 2010-11 season; assistant men’s coach at Florida International University in the 2012-13 season.
• OTHER INFORMATION: U of L director of basketball operations for the Cardinals’ men’s team in the 2011-12 season; his wife is the former Paige Dickey, a Jeffersonville High School graduate and former Indiana University Southeast softball player.