Changing the mentality: WSN boys basketball soaring to new heights in 2014-15
Over the years, the W.S. Neal boy’s basketball program has fell on hard times.
In the 2000s, an overall record of 88 wins and 271 losses is proof of the hard times. Only three winning seasons in the last 14 seasons.
In just the last seven seasons, the Eagles show a 48-90 record with only two winning seasons (2009-10 and 2008-09). Also during that time of seven seasons, there have been six head coaches come and go.
But this season, things have turned around for the Eagles of East Brewton. In 23 games this season, WSN has a 13-10 record. The Eagles, led by first-year head coach Dewan Salter, went a perfect 4-0 in area play and captured the program’s first area championship since the 1989-90 season thaw saw Harrison Mims lead the program. The other lone area championship was during the 1987-88 season when Danny Parker led the team.
With 13 wins this season, WSN is just two wins shy of the program’s win total from the last four seasons combined. From the 2010-11 season through last year, WSN went 15-46.
Salter said coming into the 2014-15 season, he knew the team had a lot of experience, a lot of game time experience and a lot of players who had played a lot of minutes on the basketball court.
“I knew we had some talent there, but I really did not know how far along they were with that experience,” he said. “We found out real fast that we had a long ways to go. We are slowly getting there and it has been an overall excellent season for the community, these kids and us. We have been able to win a few games and get a little bit better, but we still have a long way to go.”
WSN started the season with a 4-6 record before defeating T.R. Miller in East Brewton just a few days before Christmas. WSN would go on and finish the 2014 part of their schedule with a 5-7 record.
After Christmas break, WSN went 8-1 in their first nine games of 2015 to move to 13-8 overall. WSN went on to lose their final two regular season games to Robertsdale and TRM to finish with an 8-3 record in 2015 and finish the regular season with a 13-10 record.
Salter said the win over TRM before Christmas was when he started to notice things changed and thing began to click for his team.
“We had a big win over T.R. Miller right before Christmas and then we went down to Robertsdale the next day and we were kind of flat that day and took a loss,” he said. “It seemed like they kept their heads up and worked really hard. We then came back after the Christmas break and we got some rest, especially the football players that went right into playing basketball just a few days after being knocked out of the state playoffs. We got some rest and it seemed like the picked their momentum up some after that.”
Salter said when he took over the Eagles this year, he said he wanted to change the mentality of the team.
“What I told them first, and some may think I am silly for this, but I told that some time back in the past, someone told W.S. Neal that we could not play basketball here,” he said. “I then told the players that we were going to change the foundation and the identity of the team. I told them that my philosophy of that was that mental toughness was the key to success. I think that you are going to face adversity in every game that you play and throughout life. If you have got the mental toughness to go through that and go through life and have the mental toughness to overcome it, you will be successful in life. They are buying into that, but we still have a ways to go.”
With changing the mental toughness of his team, Salter said he doesn’t want his players to talk to the other team or talk to the officials or let the fans affect them.
“We kind of let that happen a few times in the year, but they are slowly getting better with that,” he said. “It really showed against UMS-Wright as they went down there with a hostile crowd and overcame that. They were really loud down there that night. At first, we had that deer in the headlights look, but then they came on and started playing and relaxed.”
Overcoming the rough crowd at UMS-Wright in Mobile helped WSN to a two-point area win over the Bulldogs and allowed them to clinch the regular season area championship.
Salter said the win for the championship was something that is special for the young men on his WSN team.
“It has been 25 years or so since it happened,” he said. “We didn’t set any goals. We took it game by game and date by date. I told them that we can’t control winning because if we could, we would win every time. That night was very special for them because they were able to overcome that adversity. It showed me that they are listening a little bit and overcoming some things.”
After finishing their regular season Friday night against T.R. Miller, WSN will now host the area tournament Tuesday and Thursday in East Brewton at W.S. Neal Middle School.
Salter said he hopes his team can stay focused over this next part of the season.
“We had a little sickness in our last couple of regular season games,” he said. “Again that is adversity and mental toughness. I use the word resolve a lot. I want them to stay consistent and then get to a higher level. They are buying into that and focusing. Against Robertsdale, we were flat with one or two out with the flu. We went through adversity there. We played hard, we just couldn’t do it. I just want us to continue to build and do better as we play in the area tournament and move on to the sub-regionals.”
WSN will play Tuesday’s winner between UMS-Wright and Satsuma at 5:30 p.m. for the area championship. WSN has already clinched a spot in the sub-regional round of the playoffs. With a win in the area championship game Thursday, WSN would host the sub-regional round with a berth in the South Regionals on the line.
Through 2015: 12 losing seasons, three winning
2010-2014: 15-46, 2014-15: 13-10 (4-0 in area; area champs)
2007-2015: 8 seasons, 7 head coaches