Class AAAAAA boys championship
Who: Wheeler vs. Pebblebrook
When: 8:45 p.m. Saturday
On TV: Georgia Public Broadcast
The unbelievable success of the basketball program at Marietta’s Wheeler High has come under a coaching staff groomed in the game in Gainesville.
When the nation’s fifth-ranked Wildcats (29-2) go for the Class AAAAAA championship against Pebblebrook on Saturday in Macon, it will be thanks to the leadership of head coach Doug Lipscomb, and a pair of assistant coaches, Mario Mays and Patrick Hamilton, who all call Gainesville home.
“We’re always trying to put forth our best effort and make our hometown proud,” said Mays, who is in his seventh year on Wheeler’s staff and graduated from Gainesville High in 1993.
Making the folks at home — which includes countless friends and family members — proud is something the staff steered by a coaching icon, Lipscomb, is doing almost every season. Now in his 23rd season at Wheeler, Lipscomb has earned five state championships and three state-runner up honors.
With the chance at state title No. 6, Lipscomb said this year has been one of the most enjoyable in his 30-year career.
Led by the nation’s second-ranked player by ESPN and McDonald’s All-American Game Selection Jaylen Brown, Wheeler has defeated the top-ranked Monteverde Academy (Fla.) and No. 2 Wesleyan Christian Academy (N.C.) in tournament play in Florida, along with trips to play elite talent in Portland, Ore., and Springfield, Mass.
Lipscomb said that every trip this season was about educational experiences on the road, as well as playing top-flight competition.
Lipscomb insists that all of Wheeler’s success is a collaborative effort of his coaching staff with deep ties to Gainesville.
“I’m just so happy to have these great coaches working with me,” said Lipscomb, who graduated in 1980 from Gainesville.
In his first year with the program, Hamilton says there’s great chemistry among the trio who all came up in the same community and played under legendary coach Jerry Davis for the Red Elephants.
He said the players never forget their instruction comes from a group of proud Red Elephants, who all grew up playing on the same courts at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County, Fair Street Elementary and the old E.E. Butler High, according to Lipscomb.
Hamilton brings a wealth of experience to the staff, having starred for a pair of Gainesville High state championship teams and then a playing career at the University of Georgia (1985-89).
Ask Lipscomb who his influences were in basketball, it’s like a rolodex of the great names to coach the game in Gainesville and Hall County. Not only did he play for Davis, but he did his student teaching at Johnson High under 700-game winner Seth Vining.
In college, he played for Mike Nordholz at Gainesville Junior College before going on to finish his college playing career at Middle Tennessee State.
Lipscomb said the comfort with his two assistants from the same hometown and high school carries over to the style of basketball played for a prominent program such as Wheeler.
Even though none of the three graced the court at Gainesville High at the same time, they all had the same influences and experiences growing up in the same close-knit community.
The youngest of the coaches, Mays, played little league football as a kid for Lipscomb’s brother Willie. Lipscomb’s system at Wheeler has turned out about 10 assistants, who all went on to head coaching positions, including fellow Gainesville High graduate Chuck Hendrix, who coached at Pebblebrook High before taking a coaching job in Florida.
Hamilton said there’s even a strong similarity between the 2014-15 Wheeler squad and the state champion 1983 Red Elephants, who finished 30-0.
This season, Wheeler had to win the region championship game on a last-second shot by Bilal Abdur-Rahim against Pope. It reminded him of the squad his junior season that won a very close game against Elbert County in the region tournament before winning it all at state.
Now, these three Gainesville products are trying to cap off their first state championship run on the same bench for Wheeler.