By Blake Ells
When Patrick Davis took over the Vestavia Hills boys basketball program last season, he was eager for the opportunity to lead the Rebels, which had won two state championships before his arrival.
In his first season, the Rebels reached the state semifinals.
They return eight players from that ’16-’17 team this year, with hopes of going even farther.
“We had a lot of good players here,” said Davis, former coach at Thompson. “Each coach is going to do things differently, so there was a lot of teaching involved and implementing what we’re trying to do. But there was a good foundation and a solid group of players. We didn’t start the year off very well and we had some bumps and bruises until Christmas, but we played our best basketball in the back half of the year.”
Auburn defeated Vestavia 44-37 before falling to Mountain Brook in last season’s 7A championship game.
Davis is confident that his wealth of returning players can reach similar or greater heights this season.
Leading that group is senior point guard Scott Morrison, who scored 10 points a game last season. This is Morrison’s fourth year on the varsity squad – a rarity at the 7A level.
He’ll be complemented by Luke Champion, who logged a lot of minutes a season ago. One of the Rebels’ best defenders, he was also among the top four scorers on last season’s team.
Juniors Paul Michael Hargrove and Hunter Salmon each started half of last season’s games as sophomores, and Rian Shields will see an expanded role.
“We’ve got a lot of size,” said Davis. “And those (Hargrove and Salmon) had some size last year. They were inexperienced size; Paul Michael, right now, is around 6’8” and Hunter is around 6’5.” They split the starts because they had post size, and we threw them in the fire to get them some experience.”
Davis expects big contributions from some newcomers as well. Junior Michael Vice joins from the Rebels football team, and juniors Luke Couch and Thomas Anderson had promising off seasons.
The Rebels opened with a win over Chelsea, and they’ll travel to Hueytown and Helena before hosting the Sneaky Pete’s Rebel Classic before Thanksgiving. They’ll also be part of the Steel City Invitational at Samford, and they’ll travel to Kentucky for the Ashland Invitational Tournament in December before beginning 2018 against defending state champion Mountain Brook.
Davis said he’s looking forward to the trip to Ashland.
“I like to try to play different styles and play as many teams as possible, and this gives us an opportunity to do that,” he said. “Obviously, Kentucky is the basketball mecca, and as it’s an invite tournament, we’re fortunate to go play some high-quality programs.”
Davis doesn’t really set goals for his teams; he focuses more on the things that they can control, making baby steps toward long-term success.
“We don’t really set end result goals,” Davis said. “We don’t say, ‘We want to win a state title,’ or ‘We want to get to a final four.’ Obviously those things are things that we want to accomplish. When we talk about our goals, we talk about, ‘Are we better today than we were yesterday?’
“I know that sounds cliched, but if teams can identify with how we do what we do and not just what the end result is, it’s been my experience that you end up achieving more, because you’re focused on the parts that you can control.”