When Dillard made its only previous Beach Ball Classic appearance in 2000, it did so coming off the first of four straight Florida state championships.
The Panthers are in the 36th Beach Ball under similar circumstances. They won their sixth Florida Class 6A state title this past spring and returned the key contributors to the title, including Florida State commitment Raiquan Gray and Jordan Wright, who committed last week to play football at Kentucky.
But Dillard went 1-2 in the 2000 Beach Ball with losses to Simon Gratz (Pa.) and Westover (Ga.) and a win over Mount Vernon (N.Y.). That experience gave 24-year Dillard coach Darryl Burrows some perspective that he tried to impart to his team prior to this year’s tournament.
It has apparently worked. Dillard got an opening-round win over Father Henry Carr of Ontario, Canada, and defeated Bishop O’Connell (Va.) 53-41 Wednesday night to reach tonight’stough semifinal matchup with Imhotep Charter School of Philadelphia.
“We thought we had a powerful team we brought up that year,” Burrows said. “It was kind of an eye-opener for me, so to get back has always kind of been in my plans a little bit. “If you have never been to this tournament and seen the caliber of teams that are here, it can kind of be overwhelming the first time you come to Beach Ball. I tried to get the team prepared for the type of teams and atmosphere and type of things they would see coming here.”
Molding young lives — not wins — drives longtime Westchester coach
Ed Azzam is often asked, “What is the secret to your team’s success?”
And in many cases, the Westchester (Calif.) coach’s answer is relatively the same.
“Honestly, I’ve had a lot of great, great teams, players and assistant coaches,” he said. “But in another way, it makes me wonder if it’s just because I’m old.”
Over the course of his lengthy coaching career, he’s led his teams to more than 800 wins. In addition, six California state championships and 13 Los Angeles city titles, the latest coming a season ago.
As great an experience it was to win those championships, the thing most precious to him is the fact so many players return, wanting to do their part and give back to the program. The most visible example of this is Westchester alum and NBA veteran Trevor Ariza, for whom an early season basketball tournament at the school is named.
According to Azzam, as long as the kids are willing and he is able, the longtime Comets head man will continue to coach.
“I love to teach, that’s the driving force for me,” he said. “The last 10 or 12 years, I’ve said as long as the kids are willing to learn, that I will continue to do this.
“I have a great group of kids, really nice … sometimes to the point of being too nice. But there have been so many incredible moments. When you spend a lot of your time with kids and teaching them, the wins are just as cherished as those moments where you see that light bulb turn on, and they get it. Those are the ones you hold dear.”
Carr riding shorthanded
An unfavorable exchange rate isn’t the only disadvantage Canadians have this week in Myrtle Beach.
The Beach Ball’s lone Canadian entry, Father Henry Carr of the Ontario province, is restricted from using a couple players, including a starter, because the tournament adheres to the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations, according to Henry Carr coach Paul Melnik.
The Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, which abides by NFHA policies, requires transfer students to sit out an entire season in their first year with their new school. That policy is a primary reason Melnik said a new prep league was created last year called the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association. Eight teams played in the inaugural season.
The prep league requires new transfers to sit out just 30 days. Henry Carr played in both the high school and prep league last year but chose to play solely in the prep league this season. Melnik believes some of the top programs in Canada were losing players to U.S. schools in states where they could transfer and play immediately.
“Things are changing in Ontario,” Melnik said. “The prep league is the way to go because otherwise you’re just losing kids. If we didn’t start this prep league in Ontario we’d be losing all our kids to prep schools down here. So in an effort to keep the best kids up there we started this league.
“. . . But I’ve got to abide by our rules in Ontario to play here because it’s sanctioned by the NFHS.”
Henry Carr (11-7) went 3-1 last week in the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas. But it lost its first two Beach Ball games, 68-60 to Dillard (Fla.) and 64-58 to Westlake (Ga.).
The player restrictions are damaging to a team that likes to play at a frantic full-court pace and substitute frequently. Henry Carr also has one player sitting out this week with an injury and another who didn’t make the trip because of other commitments.
“So we’re a little bit shorthanded. We’re a little weaker than the team we normally play with,” said Melnik, whose team arrived in Myrtle Beach following a 20-hour bus ride at 2:30 a.m.Tuesday morning, less than 15 hours before its tournament opener.
Wootten family a true story of love and basketball
Through the years, basketball has been used as a means of bringing the Wootten family together.
Few coaching resumes stack up nationally with that of the family’s patriarch, Morgan. For 47 seasons he sat at the head of the DeMatha Catholic School (Washington, D.C.) bench, leading the team to 1,274 victories, 22 city championships and five national high school championships.
While not necessarily seeking to match the standard his father set, Morgan’s youngest son continues to contribute to family lore.
In 15 years, Joe Wootten has become a coaching legend in his own right, leading Bishop O’Connell (Va.) to five Virginia independent school state titles. Over the course of his tenure, the Knights have averaged better than 23 wins per season.
Yet, all of the team’s success tends to come back to the simplest of notions — family comes first.
All one has to do is look at the end of the Bishop O’Connell bench to learn just how important it truly is.
Even as Joe prepares to lead his players in battle, his wife Terri isn’t likely to be all that far behind.
Both the children of basketball coaches, they met in the 1990s at an annual basketball camp held by Wootten’s family, where she was a trainer.
They were married in 1999, and two years later she became the athletic trainer at Bishop O’Connell.
“Before she was my wife, she was an athletic trainer, and we were on the road she was always there with us. But now with young kids it isn’t as frequent,” Joe Wootten said. “But to have her on the bench with us has been absolutely magnificent, and it kind of shows what kind of culture we are trying to build and keep.”
And apparently the families of Bishop O’Connell players have fully bought in as well.
“All of the families have been a pleasure working with, and have really helped our program become what it is,” he said.