Three new coaches show positive steps in first season

January 30, 2011 

Before this season, three coaches took over area boys basketball programs facing the daunting prospect of rebuilding -- or in one case, simply building.

Antoine Youmans at Battery Creek High School, Linc Lyles at Whale Branch High School and Vinnie Emery at Hilton Head Christian Academy each faced a different challenge, and each has enjoyed moments of success, albeit to varying degrees.

At Whale Branch, Lyles had to build a program from scratch -- or more appropriately, from scraps -- when the new school split from Battery Creek.

The Warriors have taken their share of lumps -- they're 4-11 overall and 3-6 in Region 5-A -- and they've had their share of close calls, losing six games by single digits.

Then, on Friday night, a breakthrough came in the form of a 58-46 home win against a Ridgeland High School team they had lost to earlier this month.

Lyles said afterwards the Warriors had become a different team in the three weeks between games against the Jaguars, developing a level of confidence even while losing five consecutive games.

That's the sign of a program on the right track.

At Hilton Head Christian, Emery had the disadvantage of a late start, taking over on short notice in October after Jerry Faulkner abruptly resigned a month earlier.

Despite the tumultuous scenario, not to mention the fact the Eagles returned only two players with significant varsity experience, Hilton Head Christian is 12-6 overall and 2-3 in SCISAA Region 3-AAA, a respectable record by any standard.

Granted, the Eagles' hopes of a region title took a hit with Friday's 74-47 loss to Pinewood Prep -- a team they beat on the road earlier this month -- but as Emery rightly points out, no one expected them to be part of the conversation this late in the season, anyway.

With only one senior in the starting lineup, no one will sleep on the Eagles going into next season.

At Battery Creek, Youmans inherited perhaps the greatest challenge of the three, taking over a program that had raised the bar of expectations with back-to-back seasons marked by immense success. When John Drafts stepped aside after 27 seasons, Youmans entered with just one returning starter and the weight of following acts that ended with the Dolphins reaching the Lower State championship game in 2009 and winning a school-record 24 games in 2010.

Things got even more difficult for Youmans in December, when that lone returning starter -- leading scorer Javari Albergottie -- was dismissed from the team after he was arrested by a school resource officer and charged with two counts of drug possession.

After losing their leader, the Dolphins faced some trying times. In their first two games without Albergottie, they scored 19 first-half points -- in both games combined. Youmans has coaxed his inexperienced team along, though, and the Dolphins have won four of their past six, including a 3-2 start in Region 7-AAA and a big win over rival Beaufort High School.

The key, Youmans said, is never lowering the bar.

"You've still got to let them know even though it's a rebuilding year, and even though you lost a lot of players, you've still got to keep your expectations high," Youmans said. "If you start talking about a rebuilding year, the players will buy into that, and they'll start to think they can achieve less."

But regardless of the black-and-white results -- the wins and losses -- fans, parents and athletics directors need to reserve judgment on all three coaches.

Any rubric for evaluating a high school basketball coach ought to go well beyond measuring wins and losses, and it also should stretch well beyond one year.

As a case in point, take a look at Bluffton High School, where the Bobcats have flourished in their second year under Brett Macy, the former assistant who replaced Jim Finlen last season.

When watching Macy's team struggle to a 5-17 overall record and a 1-9 region mark last season, it was impossible to miss the fact the Bobcats were <begin ital>this close<end ital> to being a pretty darn good team.

The young Bobcats always seemed just a step behind the learning curve a year ago, but they used the losses as a learning tool, and now they're competing for a region title.

You can see many of the same elements from that Bluffton team in this year's Dolphins, Warriors and Eagles.

Only time will tell if the similarities continue in the new coaches' second year, but they've all done enough to earn the benefit of the doubt.

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