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McCollum looks to turn Neal basketball program around

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
David McCollum was aware of the struggles of the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles basketball job when he was hired as the program's head coach.
McCollum also knows there is nothing he can do about its past history.
"The past is in the past. It's up to me to start a new tradition starting now," McCollum said.
This will be the first head coaching job for the 23-year-old McCollum. A graduate of Arab High School, McCollum previously served as a varsity assistant coach at his alma mater and an assistant coach at Northside Middle School in Tuscaloosa where he did his student teaching. McCollum, who got his bachelor degree at Jacksonville State and his masters degree at Alabama, was hired to teach 11th and 12th grade history at W.S. Neal in addition to his coaching duties.
McCollum said he has no apprehension about becoming a head coach for the first time.
"Being a head coach means I have all the program's responsibility on my shoulders, but I'm not nervous about it. I've always had the attitude of why can't I do something rather than why I can't do something," McCollum said.
McCollum inherits a Blue Eagles program that went 1-22 last season under preceding coach Tom Lawler. That lone victory (against Pleasant Home) snapped a 25-game losing streak over two seasons.
"I had some other opportunities, but this is where I want to be. We need to start to build this program from the ground up and it's going to take a lot of hard work and discipline," McCollum said.
Being hired in mid-June still gives McCollum some time to get some summer work in for his players.
"I've had a chance to meet a lot of the players already and I've gotten a lot of good feedback. Between now and the start of school we'll be having individual player evaluations. We'll have open gym a couple of nights a week. We'll also have a weightlifting program for those players who aren't involved in football," McCollum said.
Alabama allows high school basketball teams to participate in one summer team camp, but McCollum said that is something his program will bypass this year.
"We'll definitely look at being part of a team camp next year, but right now I don't think it would do us a lot of good to be in one this year. At this point, we just need to get back to basics," McCollum said.
While McCollum has yet to meet all his player personnel, he said he prefers an uptempo style.
"I like a fast pace, but with control," McCollum said. "Regardless of what I prefer, we'll adapt to the personnel we have."
While his focus is the high school program, McCollum also wants to devlop a good working relationship with the players and coaches at the younger levels.
"That's where you start to build the foundation of a program. We want those players doing things the right way," McCollum said. "We'll be having a grade school camp later in this summer for players in grades first through eighth to help teach them some skills and fundamentals."
W.S. Neal's Class 3A Area 1 field contains T.R. Miller, Clarke County and newcomer Straughn.
"I don't know a lot about those teams at this time. T.R. Miller has a lot of tradition in athletics and Clarke County has had some good teams. Right now my main focus isn't on those teams, it's on us," McCollum said.
For years, W.S. Neal has been labeled as a "football school." McCollum said there is no competition between the two programs.
"I want the football program here to do well. I'll be out on Friday nights encouraging those kids. Coach Smothers is a class act. I know he'll be very supportive of the basketball program. There is no reason why this school can't be sucessful in both sports, actually all sports," McCollum said. "My goal here is to win a state championship and that's not on a five-year plan. People can call me crazy or stupid, especially after coming off a 1-22 season, but if the players will listen to what I have to say and work hard, we can get this program turned around. Winning cures a lot of problems."