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Jim Justice's biggest business Is basketball

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JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal JIM WORKMAN / The State Journal

By J.T. SIMMS

For The State Journal

March Madness is again in full swing. 

And once again, Greenbrier East High School had top ranked teams in both boys and girls basketball. The two successful programs have one thing in common — the coach. A coach, who in addition to being one of the busiest coaches in West Virginia, is also one of the winningest. 

Few people around the state realize it, though, mainly because Greenbrier East head coach Jim Justice is much more known for his success in the business arena than on the basketball court. 

So while one of the state's wealthiest citizens has the mind of a businessman, he also has the heart of a coach. 

"I love the sport and love the kids," said Justice, owner of The Greenbrier resort. "That's genuine." 

His enthusiasm is most evident during games, but his players say it does not change once the game is over. 

The Spartan boys were ranked No. 6 in the state with a record of 18-7 and advanced to a regional co-final. The girls program was ranked No. 2 and finished with a 24-2 record before bowing out in the semifinal round of the state tournament.

Since 2000, Justice has led the Greenbrier East girls basketball team. In 2011 he took over as the head coach of the Spartans' boys team. 

In a combined 17 high school seasons, Justice's teams have never posted a losing record. His girls teams have won 257 games while losing just 89 times. 

The Spartans have captured 10 sectional titles, eight regional championships, and made their eighth state tournament appearance this month. Greenbrier East was state tournament runner-up in 2004 and won the title in 2012. 

The boys have had a 51-24 record since Justice took over. 

"He knows the game really well," said Rondale Watson, a senior guard for Greenbrier East. "I love him as a coach and as a role model." 

All told, Justice's prep coaching record is a combined 308-113 and 956-198 when counting every level of coaching. 

But in addition to the wins, a lot of his players say Justice makes being on the Greenbrier East squads something special. 

"Playing for Coach Justice is not like playing for anyone else," said Obi Romeo, a senior center. "Aside from being a great coach, he just treats us extremely well and takes a personal interest in everyone." 

The Forbes Magazine aspect of Justice's life does not spill over to his coaching, according to Romeo. 

"Absolutely not; he's one of the most humble people I know," he said. "It wouldn't change anything if he just had a regular job of some sort." 

Justice began coaching when he was about 25 years old. 

"I coached at the YMCA," he recalled. "Little kids and all the way up." 

Since that time he has been an assistant girls coach for an elementary school and later boys and girls head coach at the middle school level. 

He has also coached Word of Life, YBOA and AAU teams in local, regional and national competitions picking up championships at every step. 

He even coached a semi-pro team for a while. 

"Cathy and I drove kids in little vans to New York, Cincinnati, all over, to play," Justice said of his wife, getting into the games. 

Since becoming a high school coach, he has operated with a "no-cuts" policy that is not usually associated with programs that successful. 

"In 14 years, I've never cut a kid," Justice said. "As long as they want to come out and practice I make room for them." 

That is because as hard as he works at developing winners on the court, he works at least as hard to help his players become winners off the court as well. 

"Every day we sit down and talk," Justice said. "It may be for five minutes, it may be for 20 minutes, whatever." 

His players call it "story time." 

"That was usually the highlight of practice," said Brittany Parker, who played for Justice from 2007 to 2011. "He would ask about our grades, what was going on in the world, and what was going on with us." 

Grades are very important for a Greenbrier East basketball player. 

"I have never had a kid become ineligible due to grades," Justice said. 

And his concern does not end when his players finish high school. 

"He still keeps up with me and asks about my grades," said Parker, who still regularly attends Spartans' games. 

Even with a busy business life off the court, Justice makes sure that his responsibilities as a coach come first, which isn't easy for any coach with two teams during the same high school season. 

"If I'm going to do it, I'm not going to halfway do it," Justice said.

Double-duty coaching has not seemed to affect the success of either squad. The first year Justice added the boys team to his duties, the girls won the state championship. 

Last season his teams won a combined 44 games, the most by a high school basketball coach in a single season in state history, according to West Virginia sports historian Doug Huff. 

"It is a big job," Justice admitted. 

On a typical school day with no scheduled games, one team will come in right after school and then the other afterward. So, for the coach, practice runs from 3:30 p.m. until close to 8 p.m. And he doesn't run easy practices, either. 

"It was intense," Parker recalled. "You were expected to give your best all the time." 

If one team is on the road, he practices the other from 3:30 to 6 p.m. 

"Then I jump in the car and drive to the game," Justice said. "I don't miss a practice." 

Any night his teams are not playing, he spends scouting future opponents or watching films. 

His recipe for success is the same in anything he does. 

"If you get the chemistry right," Justice said, "You succeed in basketball, business and life."