Wenonah basketball has been a premium brand in Alabama high school sports for the last four seasons. Coach Cedric Lane’s Dragons were one of the best stories in Alabama high school sports during the first half of this decade.
Wenonah won Class 5A state basketball titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The Dragons summoned up an 18-point fourth quarter comeback for the ages for their first title. That started a wave of All-State players like Justin Coleman, Isiah Maston and De’Runnya Wilson. Those standouts fueled a run that saw the Dragons ranked among the nation’s Top 20 teams by Maxpreps.com after the 2013 season.
Now fast forward to 2015. The program which produced the last three Birmingham News Metro Player of the Year award winners is currently 12-17. The Dragons have lost three times this month by more than 20 points.
That’s quite the contrast from those good days.
First-year head coach Audwin Howard took over for Lane this year. He said this year’s struggles are an example that a program that goes up will eventually come back down when the talent runs dry.
“Things go in waves,” Howard said. “Everything happens in waves. We are going to restock in time. We’re young this year. Wenonah had a great nucleus of guys the last three or four years. Now we are rebuilding.”
Wenonah thrived the last four season despite the highest of expectations thanks to skilled players and quality coaching. Wilson won the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Mr. Basketball honor in 2012 on his way to starring on the football field at Mississippi State. The two-time Birmingham News Metro Basketball Player of the Year caught nine touchdown passes for the Bulldogs in 2014.
Wenonah’s bid for a fourth straight Class 5A title was denied last season by Athens at the regional semifinals. That signaled the end of a dominant era for the Dragons. Lane left the program shortly thereafter for a new challenge with Jackson-Olin. Coleman enrolled at Alabama and had his first breakout game earlier this year against Arkansas. Maston signed with South Alabama in 2012, but now is no longer with that team.
The Dragons started this season with a 6-1 record, but have now lost 16 of their last 22 games.
“We’ve got a good freshman group and a good junior varsity group,” Howard said. “We are going to make it good. We are going to turn it back around.”
Howard said the team worked through some internal problems with team chemistry. A lack of senior leadership hurt. The expected starter at point guard was lost for the year with a torn meniscus. The team’s top shooter had to play the point. He’s not the only player that’s not in his natural spot on the floor.
“We still want to compete,” Howard said. “Just continue to compete with great effort no matter how the chips fall. We will still compete no matter who is in those uniforms. We are still Wenonah. We are taking a lot of the beatings that the Dragons issued out over the years. There’s a lot of teams that want to get back at Wenonah. I tell them that’s the price of wearing that Wenonah jersey. There’s a lot of tradition and respect that comes with putting on that jersey. Those are the things we are trying to get the guys to understand.”
This year’s team is built on intensity on the defensive end.
“We’re very young,” Howard said. “As our defense goes, that’s how our team goes. Our point guard is a ninth grader, but that’s still no excuse. The one thing that stays constant is our defensive effort. If we miss shots, then we are still going to play defense.”