By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
It’s been said by many that basketball in Wyoming County is more than a game; it’s a religion.
If that’s the case, many of the area’s patron saints were gathered together Friday evening for the fifth annual Sports Legends Reunion.
The hoops royalty Lewis D’Antoni, Don Nuckols, Willie Akers and Herbie Brooks were in attendance, honoring the past and all speaking on the future.
“Kids today, they need to practice,” the 99-year-old D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to practice year round. If you’re going to be a basketball player, practice, practice, practice. It’s how winners are made.”
D’Antoni knows a thing or two about winning. D’Antoni coached Pineville High School from 1937-41 and Mullens High school from 1942-59, reaching the state tournament four times and winning it in 1955. He later went on to coach at Chesapeake High School in Ohio for 11 years and won six conference championships and was honored as the state coach of the year six times.
“That’s what it all comes down to,” D’Antoni concluded. “You must practice.”
D’Antoni wasn’t the only coaching legend with advice for the Wyoming East and Westside hoopers.
Don Nuckols, who graduated from Glen Rogers High School in 1956, and then went on to coach the Mullens Rebels to five state championships in the 1970s and 80s, echoed those sentiments of the legendary D’Antoni.
“The advice I’d give them is just to play hard and have a good time,” Nuckols said. “Enjoy your time in high school and play, play, play. Play in the summer. Play in the winter. Just get out and play.”
One of Nuckols former players had his own advice.
Herbie Brooks helped lead the Rebels to four straight state championship games between 1981 and 1984, losing the first to Bishop Donahue and then picking up three straight titles. Brooks currently holds the record for most points scored in a tournament game with 50, against Parkersburg Catholic in the 1983 championship.
“Keep doing what they’re doing,” Brooks said. “One thing I like seeing down there, especially in Mullens is that Justin Caldwell, that finished at East and played in college and overseas is back here and running a camp and working out system for the young guys. That’s what it takes. That’s a wonderful thing.
“Ryan Davidson is down there coaching AAU teams and getting the kids involved at a young age and keeping them involved,” Brooks added. “I came up and we were on the playground every single day. You’re seeing more of that in Mullens now. I’m glad to see it coming back. It’s because of those younger guys getting the kids involved.”
Brooks, who has deep ties to Wyoming East, foresees a rough road ahead for the Warriors in their battles with Westside in the 2013-14 season, but not because of effort. In his eyes, the Renegades are just that good.
“They’re going to be tough for a few years, man,” Brooks said with a laugh. “I had an opportunity to watch those guys in a tournament and I’ve played around with a few of them. And my gosh, them guys are running around everywhere. They couldn’t guard them! They’re all up in their face, they were all up in my face. Wyoming East is not going to beat them this year.”
Brooks hopes his words will motivate the Warriors.
“If they don’t work like they’re supposed to do, they won’t beat them,” Brooks added. “That should be incentive to get out there and get better. Westside has a really good team.”
The ever outspoken Nuckols thinks it will be a little closer than his former student.
“Both teams are real good right now,” Nuckols added. “But down the last few years East has been the best and now Westside is coming back. They came back last year and beat them and went on to the states. This coming year is going to be the same thing. East has got a ton back. Westside has got a ton back. Both are going to be good. Both are going to play hard and it’s going to be really outstanding basketball in Wyoming County this year.”
Nuckols also had advice for Wyoming East coach Rory Chapman and Westside coach Nick Cook.
“The advice I’d give to the two coaches if you love it stay with it,” he said. “I made a mistake in 1984. I quit coaching and went into administration and if I had to do it over again, I’d never do it. You do things that maybe sometimes you regret. I thought I’d get in administration and make a little bit more money. That little bit more money didn’t help. I love coaching and should have never quit.”
Wyoming East and Westside will begin their battle for the title of “Kings of Wyoming County” with the first game scheduled for January 3, 2014 in New Richmond with the second game scheduled for February 7 in Clear Fork. Both schools are scheduled to take part in the 2014 Big Atlantic Classic, where Westside defeated Wyoming East for the first time in five years this past season.
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