Joe Medley: Mentor validated by win, his pupil
by Joe Medley
Jan 25, 2014 | 2785 views |  0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anniston's Demarcus Thomas (22) tries to block the shot of Sacred Heart's Diante Wood (1). (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Anniston's Demarcus Thomas (22) tries to block the shot of Sacred Heart's Diante Wood (1). (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
JACKSONVILLE -- The 63rd and most memorable Calhoun County Tournament will go down as Quen Williams’ rollout as a must-see player and Sacred Heart’s rollout as a must-see team.

It’ll also go down as more validation for Anniston’s program, particularly boys coach Schuessler Ware.

His team beat the squad of his former player and assistant coach, Sacred Heart’s Ralpheal Graves, 56-54 in Saturday’s dramatic title game in Jacksonville State University’s packed Pete Mathews Coliseum.

The victory, coupled with Anniston’s 64-53 victory over Jacksonville in the girls final, gave Anniston its first sweep since 2009 but sixth sweep overall.

It gave Ware his seventh county title, but there was a sense that he couldn’t lose Saturday.

That Sacred Heart made the final and came so close to becoming the first Class 1A team to win the tournament showed that Graves and, by extension, Ware must be doing something right.

Don’t believe it?

Reference those packed bleachers in The Pete on Saturday. They weren’t there just to see the county final.

They were there to see the Mighty Quen, Sacred Heart’s junior guard who punctuated his tourney-long dominance with the dramatic 30-footer to unseat three-time defending champion Oxford in Friday’s semifinals.

His big shot, aired live by TV-24 and accentuated by Star colleague Brandon Miller’s much-viewed web video, helped make The Pete the place to be Saturday night.

“If he continues to progress and he does well on the ACT, I think he’ll have a chance to play on the next level,” Graves said.

But fans also came to see Sacred Heart, the little Catholic school with no football team, attempt to make history by taking down the program that’s won this tournament 19 times.

They came to see the program lifted by Ware’s pupil play the program Ware led to two state championships, one with Graves on the team.

It was the perfect storm of storylines, and the basketball was just as compelling. Two well-coached teams with well-developed players went out and showed what their coaching tree is all about.

“Coach Ware instilled a winning attitude in us,” said Graves, who played on Ware’s 2002 state-title team and coached under him from 2008-10. “If you win, that’s what Coach Ware is about.

“He’s about hard work, winning, and he’s a big family guy, and I took those things that he taught us and brought it here to Sacred Heart.”

It didn’t go unnoticed by Ware, who acknowledged some nerves in facing a coach who knows him so well.

“He’s doing a lot of stuff that I do,” Ware said, “and he’s done well with it.

“But you want him to do well with his program. You don’t want to lose to him, but it puts you in an awkward situation where you wonder what adjustment he might make, knowing what I do.”

In the end, it came down to Ware knowing what Graves wanted to do. Anniston made Williams pass the ball on the crucial possession, and Jake Peoples missed a contested 3-point try.

So went this chapter in Ware vs. Graves and Anniston vs. Sacred Heart, matchups that are most likely to take place on the county’s biggest stage and nowhere else because the two teams play in different classifications.

But then that makes it all the sweeter. How about we do this again, somewhere along the way in next year's county tournament?

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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