Just a season after the East Hall girls basketball team made yet another deep run in the GHSA state tournament, the Lady Vikings finished the 2012-2013 season 10-14, and head coach Joey Rider stepped down from his position.
But East Hall didn’t take long to find a new coach for the girls program, which has a long-standing tradition of excellence.
Justin Wheeler, former ninth grade girls and assistant boys varsity coach at Peachtree Ridge High, was hired on Monday, according to an announcement from Hall County Schools Director of Community Relations and Athletics Gordon Higgins.
Though this will be his first year in the area, Wheeler’s familiarity with the East Hall basketball programs goes back to his high-school days.
“I played against East Hall when I was in high school (in North Augusta, S.C.),” Wheeler said. “The first time I heard of them was at summer camp. We played this team called East Hall, and boy, they played a different style.
“They subbed five in and five out, and they pressed us all game. We hated playing them, but they made us better for it.”
Since Wheeler was familiar with the Vikings’ teams and history, when he heard about the position, he was eager to get involved with a school that had a prominent basketball program.
“I knew they were a basketball school, and that’s where I wanted to be because we live in such a football-crazy country unless you go somewhere like Indiana or Kentucky,” Wheeler said.
Not only was he excited to seize the opportunity to coach at a school where basketball is a central sport, Wheeler was also hooked by the chance to coach younger players and help mold them as players.
“They told me they had young talent, and I love young talent because you have lots of time to develop (the players),” Wheeler said.
Prior to his year of coaching at Peachtree Ridge, Wheeler served as a graduate assistant in the Georgia State University men’s basketball program as he worked to get his master’s degree, but this year marks the first season that Wheeler will be saddled with the responsibilities and pressure of being a head coach.
“With any job, I think there’s pressure,” Wheeler said. “If a team’s winning, it’s up to you to keep them winning, and if they’re losing, it’s up to you to make them win. That’s just part of the job.”
Though his coaching history lies in basketball, Wheeler attended Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship throughout his undergraduate years and earned several honors for his play, including winning the ESPN Pontiac Game Changing Performance award in 2008.
“I played basketball my entire life, and it was always my number one sport,” Wheeler said. “I had offers for basketball, but I wanted to go somewhere bigger, so I played football my senior year and got a scholarship offer.”
Wheeler, however, has moved on from his football career to take bigger steps as a basketball coach and will meet his new team Wednesday at East Hall.