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Jared Hughes watches a group of kids play a pick-up game during the Little Hawks Basketball Camp on Wednesday at Shorter University's Winthrop-King Centre. Hughes is beginning his time as the head coach of the Lady Hawks and continuing a journey that began in Floyd County.

Shorter University women’s head basketball coach Jared Hughes is getting back to his roots while diving into his new gig.

That includes working with athletes a few years younger than those on his recruiting radar. Make that a lot younger.

Hughes spent the mornings during the first part of this week running the court and mentoring a group of kids for the Little Hawks Basketball Camp, harking back to his time as the youth sports director at the YMCA of Rome and Floyd County, which was the start of his journey as a coaching figure in the community.

“I was born and raised here, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach at the college level in my hometown,” Hughes said. “That’s a one-in-a-million chance, so I’m very fortunate to have that.”

A graduate of Pepperell High School and the University of Georgia, Hughes cut his teeth in coaching high school girls at Rome High, first as an assistant and then as the head coach of the Lady Wolves for two seasons starting in 2015.

He was announced as the Lady Hawks’ head coach in April and is the first Floyd County native to lead Shorter’s women’s basketball team in its history.

“We’re excited, and I think that fact is not lost on the administration here,” Hughes said.

What was not lost on Hughes was the value of the opinion of the person who was the last to have success with the program.

Hughes said he and former Lady Hawks head coach Vic Mitchell — who led the team from 1990-2017 — talked about the job while he was pursuing it.

“He and I talked several times because I hold him in the highest regard,” Hughes said. “When you think Shorter basketball you think Vic Mitchell. And he did such a tremendous job, and we had connected a few times, and he said what I already knew, which is that it’s going to be a struggle early.”

The last two seasons have seen the Lady Hawks fight to find their identity — and a head coach — following Mitchell’s departure. The team went 7-19 under former Division I coach Dawn Brown in 2017-2018. She was replaced by Tyler Roden for the 2018-2019 season. Roden was dismissed halfway through the season and Shorter finished with just one win.

“You look at how it’s been and you look at Vic, and the contradictory element there is consistency,” Hughes said. “Vic was here for over 20 years and the success that he had wasn’t by accident. It’s because you had the same voice, the same leader for all those many years. It didn’t really matter who the head coach was the last couple of years. If you’re turning over every season then your players can’t buy into what you’re preaching and it’s a tough situation for everybody.”

Hughes has already hit the recruiting trail this summer and is reaching out to 2020 and 2021 athletes across the southeast. He said he wants the Shorter fans and administration to know he’s not looking at making this a short-term stop.

“I think with them bringing me in they understand that consistency may be on it’s way back,” he said. “I’m a hometown guy and I don’t have any inclination to leave any time soon. I think they know that this is not going to be a two or three year project. This is probably going to be long-term.”

What has also helped Hughes is his experiences over the last two years, first as the head girls’ coach at Woodstock High School in Cherokee County, and then as an assistant for the women’s basketball team at Berry College.

Woodstock had graduated most of its offense when he came in after longtime coach Julie Crowe stepped down to take an administration position. Hughes still led the Lady Wolverines to the region championship game and lost to Cherokee, who went on to the Class 7A Final Four.

Family matters led Hughes and his wife to return to Rome last year and he got a job on Berry’s women’s staff under Thomas Johnson and alongside assistant coach Ashley Southern.

“I learned so much in my time with them and will be forever grateful. I don’t think this opportunity happens without my time with them,” Hughes said, adding that he got lessons in game management at the college level while at Berry.

“There’s going to be a learning curve here, don’t get me wrong. And we’re going to try to do our best. But I think they opened the door for a lot of things that I may not have known about without my time there.”

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