By Cam Huffman
What happened in March has become almost a tradition for Woodrow Wilson High School basketball coach Ron Kidd. Advancing in the state tournament and going toe-to-toe with the best in West Virginia is the norm when it comes to Beckley basketball.
But what happened in January was anything but normal for Kidd, the 2013 Register-Herald Boys Coach of the Year.
Beginning with a Jan. 2 loss to rival Greenbrier East — a rare occurance on its own, considering the Spartans hadn’t beaten Woodrow in a regular season game on the floor of the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center since 1976— the Flying Eagles went into a spin.
They were 3-0 entering that game with East — a 61-59 loss — but that setback was the first of four in five games. After beating Spring Valley on the road, the Flying Eagles fell at home to Parkersburg (65-57) and South Charleston (51-44) and then went on the road and lost to Winfield (48-44).
The three-game winning streak was an occurance most couldn’t remember and the three straight home losses was a first in the history of the Convention Center (formerly the Raleigh County Armory).
“I really couldn’t put my finger on (what was wrong),” said Kidd. “We started off real good, and then went into a funk. That was kind of a first for me.”
Kidd may not have been able to identify the exact problem, but he knew it had to come ito an end. After the Winfield loss, he went into the locker room and had a simple message for his team.
“That’s it,” he said. “We ain’t losing no more.”
Kidd’s assistants — Steve Kidd, Brian Nabors and Gene Nabors — brought up the phrase “refuse to lose,” and that suddenly became a rallying cry for the Flying Eagles.
“I think the kids started believing in our tradition and pride,” said Kidd. “Losing ain’t a part of our tradition.”
The 4-4 Woodrow team that traveled to Cabell Midland on Jan. 12 had a different look. The Flying Eagles dominated from start to finish, winning 66-34.
Proving that was no fluke, Beckley blew Nitro out of the Convention Center, winning 74-47 to end the home losing skid, and then cruised on the road at Capital for a 67-43 victory.
When Beckley knocked off Princeton 67-51 in a class of sectional powers on Jan. 24, it was clear that the struggles were over.
“We started playing better on the defensive end,” said Kidd of the turnaround. “That made us play better on the offensive end, and then we started to believe.
“We grew as a team and got better every game and every practice.”
The winning was far from over. Woodrow picked up road wins at Shady Spring and George Washington to end the month of January at 10-4 — neither game was close — and then it stormed past Lincoln County and Morgantown in the Big Atlantic Classic to capture its first tournament title of the season.
Wins against Ripley, Riverside, St. Albans and Wyoming East — a 74-63 decision against the Vikings the closest — ran the winning streak to 12 games heading into a showdown with No. 2 South Charleston in the Mountain State Athletic Conference championship game.
But even the state’s top-ranked team was no match for the Flying Eagles. No. 2 Beckley won easily, 77-60 for its first ever MSAC title.
“That was very rewarding,” said Kidd of the season’s second tournament title. “We play in one of the toughest conferences in the state, and it was really a pleasure to win it.”
Woodrow’s run was no longer a secret. The Flying Eagles settled in at No. 2 in the state rankings and continued to rack up wins.
A 75-41 thumping of Oak Hill ended the regular season at 18-4.
The Flying Eagles couldn’t be grounded in the postseason, either. After surviving a scare in the first game of the sectional tournament — an 84-77 win over Shady Spring that saw Tiger star Chase Connor light up the scoreboard with 35 points — Beckley got revenge on Greenbrier East, downing the Spartans 80-48 at the Brushfork Armory for a sectional championship.
The regional co-final against a Riverside team coming off an upset of George Washington was all Flying Eagles, and Beckley headed back to Charleston to the state tournament with a 21-4 record and a 17-game winning streak.
No. 2 seed Woodrow had a scare in the opening round, before surviving with a 63-54 win over Hurricane, its second triumph over the Redskins, and then beat South Charleston for the second time, using a late flurry to punch its ticket to the title game with a 64-57 win.
The dream season and the 19-game winning streak finally came to an end with a 57-52 loss to Martinsburg, but that didn’t come without a fight as the Flying Eagles came from behind to put a scare in the Bulldogs in the closing minutes.
Beckley’s goal of a 17th state title was turned away, but a 23-5 record, two tournament titles, a sectional title and a regional title had to be considered a success — especially considering the way the season started.
“Our goal is aways to cut down the nets,” said Kidd. “But it was still a great season. I was proud of the kids.
“I give all the credit to the kids. You have to have great kids and great fans to do what we did. We didn’t want the season to end, but that’s just part of the process, I guess.”
As Kidd said, he was aided greatly by some strong individual performances.
Donté Nabors started the season slow but picked up speed with every game. It was no coincidence that Beckley started its winning streak when Nabors started scoring 20 or more points seemingly every team out.
He ended the year averaging 22 points per game.
“He really stepped up big,” said Kidd. “What I liked about our team was that our kids knew when he was hot, and they got him the ball.”
Senior point guard Andrew Johnson also played a huge role. Johnson had the ability to put up big numbers on the scoreboard, but Beckley became a better team when Johnson became more of a facilitator, getting the ball into the hot hands.
“I think that says a lot about him,” said Kidd. “Being a senior, he could have said, ‘I’m just going to get mine,’ but he was a team player. He was already a leader, but he became more of a leader.”
When Nabors went cold in Charleston, Johnson picked up the slack, again becoming the team’s top scorer.
“He knew when he had to score,” said Kidd. “And he was able to do that.”
The emergence of freshman big man Nequan Carrington also made a major impact. The 6-foot-4 rookie quickly adjusted to the high school game and was a force to be dealt with by the time the Flying Eagles went to Charleston.
“He made a big difference,” said Kidd. “He got better because of the way he worked.”
Kidd said it’s those players — and all the others — as well as all the wins, that he’ll always remember about the 2012-13 Flying Eagles.
“I knew we had a scrappy team, and I had faith,” he said. “I’ll remember all the ups and downs.
“It’s like life. Sometimes you’re up; sometimes you’re down. But what doesn’t kill you always makes you stronger.”
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Kidd narrowly beat out Westside head coach Nick Cook, who came out of one of Class AA’s top regions to take his Renegades to the state tournament, to win the award. Greater Beckley’s Dan Burd finished third, while Greenbrier East’s Jim Justice and Valley’s Joe McCoy were the other two finalists.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.