Up to the challenge
Published 4:00 am Wednesday, January 18, 2012
With every new job, there are challenges.
Depending the predecessor and the shape of the team, those challenges can be good and bad, especially if you are an athletic coach.
That is the case for first-year W.S. Neal basketball coach Kason Whitten. Whitten as head coach for the W.S. Neal Lady and varsity Eagle basketball teams.
Currently, the Lady Eagles are 3-10 overall and 0-3 in area play while the varsity Eagles are 2-14 and 0-3 in area play.
Whitten said the first half of the year has been almost exactly how he expected.
“When starting a program you have to get adjusted to the officiating, your players getting acclimated to your system and expectations, the level of play of your opponents, and what things you need to implement to make your current and future teams competitive for future state championship levels,” Whitten said.
Whitten, 35, is the sixth head coach in six years for the W.S. Neal boys basketball team and the fifth in five years for the Lady Eagle basketball.
Whitten, who has been married for four years, has four children ages 16, 9, 9, and 3, went to high school at Callaway High School in Mississippi and went to Jackson State University where he earned his B.A. in English in 2005. Following Jackson State, Whitten went to Belhaven College and graduated with a master’s degree in management in 2009.
“I went into coaching at age 17,” Whitten said. “I realized at that time that that was my ‘calling’ by the ease of the way I was able to dissect, understand, and articulate the game of basketball. I always prepared myself for a teaching career if I wanted to take a break from coaching college basketball.”
Whitten has coached men’s basketball at the college level at Jackson State University for two years under Andy Stoglin and four years under Tom Kelsey at Belhaven University.
“I’ve coached at the storied high school program in Mississippi as Lanier High School in Jackson under the outstanding Thomas Billups. Coach Billups has coached countless division one players, NBA, and overseas professional basketball players with the most current notable being Monta Ellis of the Golden State Warriors, and these players helped him win eight state titles out of 11 trips to the state finals,” Whitten said. “While at Lanier, I was his assistant boys varsity coach and head ninth grade boys coach in 2009. We were able to win the 9th grade city championship with a record of 11 wins and one loss. Our average margin of victory was 38 points. I’ve coached at Wingfield High school also in Jackson. I’ve also had coaching stops at Mira Mesa High School (seventh and eighth grade boys AAU) in San Diego and Christian High School (girls varsity and J.V.)”
While he is coaching two teams at W.S. Neal, Whitten said it has been a pleasant challenge that keeps getting better as the year progresses.
“For the first time in my coaching career, I really have to be ‘on my toes’ so to speak and be prepared for any and everything,” he said. “Coaching young ladies has its own unique challenges to coaching young men. Additionally, as one coach, I like to make sure that I’m giving as much attention, care, and concern for each individual on my teams as I can. This formula has worked outstanding wonders to my past teams and their successes, which I firmly believe, will transfer over to the success of our Eagle basketball teams as well.
While the stop in East Brewton is his first stop in Alabama, Whitten said he believes basketball here in East Brewton is continuing to progress and become more competitive.
“Basketball here in East Brewton hasn’t been much of a huge factor in the state of Alabama up to this point because there hasn’t been much attention, care, and concern,” he said. “In my programs, the one thing that I know will become certain is the sound fundamentals displayed continuously game in and game out. In order for us to be successful in the southern Alabama regions and state wide, we will have to be fundamentally sound and dedicated to the process of getting better each minute we have an opportunity. There are a lot of good teams in this state that we can emulate and model our work ethics after in hopes to also becoming a force in this great state basketball-wise.”
Whitten said the only difference between college ball where he has coached and the high school ball here in East Brewton is the playing experience.
“There is quite a bit of talent in this state,” he said. “I loved being able to recruit in this state because there was always talent to draw from. In this region of Alabama, football is really popular so many of the kids that I coach spend their summers preparing for gridiron action in the fall. I haven’t heard of too many traveling basketball teams that come out of the southern region for boys or girls basketball teams. Traveling teams afford kids to gain valuable playing time during the summers which help make them more familiar to game situations during the season. This experience helps players react more positively on the court, which in turn make them more confident and successful during the season. The end result is the player then finds themselves in the ‘elite’ level of the state of players.”
While his teams have been short in the win column this year, Whitten said he has seen some improvements.
“The best so far for me this season is the fact of seeing my teams grow each practice and game as people,” he said. “The personal growth the kids have had translates to the ‘small victories’ on the court. Additionally, personally the kids have become and developed great characteristics, confidence, and level of pride that hasn’t been in them before.”
The most challenging?
“The losing is the most challenging,” he said. “Most games, I feel we are in them but I realize that we still have multiple things we need to work on to put together complete enough games to consistently end up on the side with the most points. I’m also challenged by the fact that I want to make sure I’m able to serve each coach, staff member, and player on my team on a personal level so that we can grow and succeed together and I can become the best leader I can be for their benefits.”
As time goes on this year and Whitten has more time next year to work with his players, he sees things improving.
“I see my players strengthening their character, physical/emotional beings, basketball fundamentals, and academic levels to heights never seen before in this Eagle community,” he said. “I know that all progressions that take place from here will be consistently on levels where success won’t be something that is forever elusive but a long-lasting reality. The short time that I’ve had to work with my players has been fun. Their individual and team progressions have been astronomical. I couldn’t be happier with where we are at this time. Many of our opponents have even commented as to how much more competitive and better we are. I think we are slowly gaining our competitors’ respect by the way we play. The hard and fast style that we play with will definitely become a weapon for us as we continue our time together over the coming years.”
The fact that W.S. Neal provides him the opportunity to start from scratch and build programs up in a community that seems to embrace their teams with sincere ‘country style’ affection, loyalty, and care brought him to East Brewton.
“Additionally, bringing my life experiences from the Marine Corps and beyond make teaching here another great opportunity for me to mentor students at all levels including the basic fundamentals of English and life,” Whitten said. “I hope to bring levels of excitement, passion, hunger, and desire to these programs that eventually produce repeated championship levels of character and basketball.”
Whitten said it is an honor and privilege to have an opportunity to coach at W.S. Neal and he feels that nothing happens by accident—he knows that him being here is perfect timing.
“My predecessors have helped set a great stage for me to come in and help continue to mold, mentor, and train these outstanding athletes and students at a high level,” he said. “I hope to break the cycle of being just ‘another coach’ at this school by carefully implementing levels of excitement, passion, hunger, and desire to these programs that eventually produce repeated championship levels of character and basketball. I feel passion, hunger, desire are the key elements in transforming the thinking, abilities, and character of my players toward high positive levels. In addition, character development will enable this program as a whole to achieve greatness on multiple levels; including but not being limited to academic levels, with the final athletic levels resulting in district and state championships.”
Whitten said he want this to be a “players” program.
“I want the players to realize their talents and from that point develop those into more efficient talents. Through their academic and athletic achievements, I want the players to have opportunities to use basketball as one of life’s many vehicles to the multiple things that can be afforded to them beyond high school,” Whitten said. “I want players who have passed through this program as well as the players here to forever be comfortable with being apart of this program and its coming successes! All the success that we will encounter will not ever be possible without those past alumni laying the foundation for us.
“I hope to instill a greater appreciation in the current players for the players of past and bridge that gap as quickly as possible. Championships are built, maintained, and repeated because the community is allowed to ban together and help nurture the success that sets before them.
“I want to achieve levels that the Eagle community and alumni can be proud of for many years to come.”