When Allen Whitehart took over as head coach of the Buford boys basketball team before the 2010-11 season, he inherited a program that had failed to win more than nine games in three consecutive seasons. The Wolves had reached the state quarterfinals in 2007, but that was a distant memory at a school where state championship bids are supposed to be a yearly occurrence.
Whitehart's mission was clear: Add boys basketball to the list of sports that Buford is expected to be successful in.
After a season in which the team went 24-9 and finished as Class AA's state runner-up, Whitehart's mission seems to have been accomplished.
For his efforts, Whitehart is The Times 2011 Basketball Coach of the Year.
"When I came in this year, I wanted a lot of stuff to change," Whitehart said. "From Day 1, I wanted us to work harder, I wanted us to be hungry to win."
The Wolves certainly proved themselves hungry, going 16-3 over their final 19 games before finally falling to Greater Atlanta Christian in the finals.
"I think that hard work is what started the process and gave us the mind set that, if we worked hard, we could win like everybody else at Buford does," Whitehart said. "And I really saw that effort and that mindset with the team in practice and in the weight room. They believed they could win if they just worked hard, and they were right."
Whitehart developed his winning mind set during seven years with Class AAAAA's Centennial High. After spending his first three years as an assistant with the Knights, Whitehart took over as head coach in 2006 and led the team to at least 20 wins each season and past the first round of the state playoffs in all but one.
Whitehart's winning ways meshed nicely with the winning attitude that permeates Buford athletics; something the coach knew after his first meeting with Buford athletic director Dexter Wood.
"I had always looked at Buford from the outside, but when the job came open, I submitted my resume and met with (Wood) and knew that I wanted to be here; to be at Buford," Whitehart said. "We had the same ideas about where we wanted the program to be and how we wanted to get it there."
Now that the team has reached the state final, the next step is to actually win a title.
While the Wolves are losing six seniors, including Alex Flagler, a member of The Times 2011 All-Area second team, and Zac Lynn, an honorable mention, they return one of their most important pieces in rising senior T.J. Shipes.
The 6-foot-7 center averaged 14.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game this season, while compiling a 62 percent field goal percentage; numbers good enough to be voted to The Times 2011 All-Area Boys Basketball first team.
In addition to Shipes, Whitehart said that the team will return "three or four" players which started at various points during the 2010-11 season.
"We're still going to be in a position to be good," Whitehart said. "I think that we have a good core coming back and that we can continue to be successful.
"I'm not satisfied with just making the final, and neither is the team."