Belgreen boys, girls ready for basketball

By Staff
Mike Self FCT Sports Editor
BELGREEN – Few people are more familiar with the basketball tradition at Belgreen High School than Wes Hester.
Hester played for the Bulldogs before graduating in 1996, and he returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach in 2002. Now, with the boys program suffering in recent years from low numbers and low win totals, Hester has taken the reins as head coach and is faced with the daunting task of helping Belgreen regain the status it once enjoyed as one of the top basketball schools in the state.
"It's all about pride, really," said Hester, whose team was scheduled to open the regular season on Thursday against Tharptown. "Basketball is our main sport at Belgreen, and I can remember when being a Belgreen basketball player and wearing that uniform was a big deal to the young kids coming up. I think the lack of interest over the past two or three years has been reflected in our record. The guys we've had playing work hard and take pride in what they do, but there just seems to be fewer of them these days."
Increasing involvement, particularly amongst the younger, up-and-coming generation, is one of the biggest challenges Hester and assistant coaches Micah Jackson and Shannon Benford face as they try and turn the program around.
"We want the younger kids to walk in our gym and see those banners hanging up there and say, 'I want my name on one of those some day,'" Hester said. "We have to instill that sense of pride and commitment. It all comes down to how hard these guys are willing to work."
The foundation for this year's Belgreen team will be in the backcourt, where senior Michael Wilson and junior Kyle Warren return at the guard positions after seeing extensive playing time last year.
"To me, that's where it all starts," Hester said. "You have to have good guard play, especially as you get deeper into the season and tournament time rolls around. Having good post players is nice, but somebody has to be able to get them the ball."
Sophomore Taylor Hester adds depth and perimeter shooting at guard, and 6-foot-3 senior Lucas Albert gives the Bulldogs size and leadership in the paint.
Senior Marty Britton and juniors Brent Newell, Shane Fretwell and Justin Gardner will all play key roles up front for Belgreen.
As for the new head coach, Hester said he's ready for the responsibility.
"I'm excited about getting started in a new role," he said. "I've been a player here and an assistant coach, but the head basketball coach at Belgreen is looked at as one of the leaders in the community. People here love basketball and really show their support. They have high expectations, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'd hate to be at a place with low expectations.
"I'm looking forward to making my own way and hopefully leaving my mark on the program."
Meanwhile, Belgreen girls head coach Shauna Humphries is faced with the challenge of replacing the scoring and leadership provided by last year's seniors, Kala Dill and Sarah Billingham.
"This is one of those years where you really don't know what to expect until you see them on the floor," Humphries said. "You can practice everyday and scrimmage against the guys, but it's hard to know how your players are going to react in a game situation. That's one reason we're all really anxious to get the season started."
Humphries said she will depend on seniors Mary Billingham and Holly Nichols to set an example for the younger players.
"Both of my seniors are great team leaders," she said. "Mary is the kind of player who will help us inside and outside. She's a good rebounder and shooter, and she'll also help out with her ballhandling. And Holly gives us great leadership, too."
The Lady Bulldogs were a dangerous three-point shooting team last year, and Humphries said she doesn't expect much of a drop-off in that area this season.
Junior guards Kellie Oliver and Candice Allen can both light it up from beyond the arc.
"I think we have the potential to be a good shooting team again this year," she said. "Sarah was a great three-point shooter for us, but we've got some girls coming back who can really shoot. Kellie Oliver has a wonderful three-point shot, and Candice Allen should really help us in that area, too.
"Our biggest challenge is going to be finding somebody who can handle the ball and drive to the basket. That's what Kala was so good at last year. We've really been working on our ball-handling and driving ability."
Five-foot-nine junior Amy Smith will be counted on for rebounding and defense in the paint, because no other Belgreen player stands taller than 5-foot-6.
The Lady Bulldogs have dropped down to Class 1A this season and will compete in Area 16 with Shoals Christian, Covenant Christian, Waterloo and Vina.
"I think we'll have a lot of good, close games in the area," Humphries said. "I'm not expecting any runaways."
Belgreen opened its season last night against Tharptown and will host Phil Campbell next Thursday.

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