Wolford new A.L. Brown girls coach
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS — The light blue banner on the door of Room 316 at A.L. Brown leaves little mystery about where Mike Wolford stands on the Duke-Carolina rivalry.
Wolford, the new coach of A.L. Brown’s girls basketball team, doesn’t have much choice in siding with the Tar Heels.
His sister, Katie, was a UNC cheerleader and married basketball player Scott Williams — not the 6-foot-10 Scott Williams who moved on to the NBA, but the 5-10 walk-on Scott Williams who moved on to Wachovia.
The smaller Scott Williams’ father is Coach Roy himself, which explains why an imposing poster of a certain, bespectacled basketball icon dominates one wall of Wolford’s classroom.
A major sports fan, Wolford’s other rooting interests are revealed by his room’s decor. There’s a Cincinnati Reds pennant (his early years were spent in Ohio), a West Virginia football banner (that’s where he lived between ages 7 and 15) and a collection of UNC Charlotte Bobbleheads (that’s where he went to college).
Wolford’s family moved from West Virginia to Asheville, and he went to high school at A.C. Reynolds, graduating in 1993.
Wolford has been in Kannapolis 11 years. He spent five years at Kannapolis Middle School, where his wife, Cara, is a respected literacy coach, and he’s been at A.L. Brown the past six years as a social studies teacher.
The personable Wolford admits he’s never dunked — “I have a fear of heights” — but he has a pretty good background in basketball.
Still, he’s not one of those people who spent his childhood dreaming of coaching when he grew up.
“When I was at the middle school, a position happened to open up,” he said. “I felt like it was something I could do, and when I saw how much that team improved over the course of the season, that’s when I really got into it. I enjoy coaching girls. There seem to be fewer discipline problems and fewer academic worries with girls.”
Wolford, 35, won championships with the Kannapolis’ middle school girls, and he’s gained valuable game-management and people-management experience coaching with the Kannapolis Komets, who compete in YBOA and USSSA tournaments.
Since he came over to Brown, he served as a varsity assistant for a season and coached jayvees two years.
“We started slow but finished strong,” Wolford said. “We’d be 1-6 or 2-5, but then we’d reverse that the second time through the league.”
Wolford promises he won’t have his team running the Four Corners offense they used to employ frequently in Chapel Hill before the shot clock was installed.
“I’ve tried it,” he said with a laugh. “It didn’t work in jayvees. We’d turn it over.”
Wolford said he isn’t a “system coach” and plans to adjust to the personnel on hand. Brown graduates a large group of seniors — Jasmine Parker, Zebresha Blakeney, Jayanna Lott and Briana McGuine were core players for years — but he will have a few veterans back.
Guard Aaliyah Spears is a prolific scorer, versatile Sara Tuttle can play point, wing or post, and Raven Phifer is an experienced post player.
“I’ve only met with team once, but obviously we’ll be counting on those three,” Wolford said. “We’ve got good eighth-graders on the way. There’s five or six girls there who will be the next wave for this program, so the future looks good. We may take our lumps early next year, but hopefully we’ll keep improving. We want to be competitive — and more. We want to be relevant.”
Tosha Pullen, who has coached Wonder basketball the past four years, is also the volleyball coach. While she’s stepped down from basketball, she’ll continue to build the volleyball program.
The past two seasons, Brown has been competitive in girls hoops. The Wonders were middle-of-the-pack, finishing fourth and fifth in a South Piedmont Conference dominated by Concord, Robinson and Hickory Ridge.
While neighbor Concord is frequently a factor on the state level, Brown hasn’t won a conference crown since the 2001 SPC tournament, and it isn’t lost on Wolford that most of the girls basketball trophies in the cases in Bullock Gym are from the 1980s.
The Wonders officially got started toward lofty goals with summer workouts on Monday, and Wolford and new jayvee coach Joey Chapman will take two teams to UNC Charlotte’s camp this weekend.
“We had a week to teach ’em a few plays,” Wolford said cheerfully.
Wolford isn’t sure about all of the 2011-12 schedule yet, but he knows the Wonders will renew their rivalry with South Rowan, and they’ll also play Carson,which returns everybody, home-and-home.
Wolford’s debut at the helm will be at Anson, a place that has provided less than wonderful memories.
“We drove down there for a Saturday makeup game, two hours on the bus, when I was coaching jayvees,” he said. “We finally get there, but there’s no refs, so we have to turn around and come back.”
Wolford expects things to go more smoothly in his rookie varsity season and plans to stay a while.
“I’ve got a 7-year-old (Lindsay) that’s going to be a pretty good athlete,” he said. “I’ll be happy if I get to coach her.”