By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Coach of the Year:
Bill Russell, Pontotoc
Bill Russell thought his 2011-12 Pontotoc Lady Warriors basketball team had “a shot to make some noise” during the season.
All-state guard Quinndella Ford, who transferred from Okolona in the offseason, added the “ka-boom” they needed to make a run for the state championship.
“When Quinn came in I thought we’d be the favorite to win the North and have a chance to win state,” said Russell, the Daily Journal’s Coach of the Year in girls high school basketball. “I think we would have been a good team without Quinn, but there’s no doubt she got us over the hump.”
Pontotoc accomplished both feats and finished undefeated with a 34-0 record. The Lady Warriors beat previously undefeated Forrest County, 72-68, in the Class 4A state championship game at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
Along the way, Russell, who is in his 23rd year of coaching, won his 500th career game.
“This state championship was special because we went undefeated,” said Russell, who won a state title in 1997 at Senatobia. “This year was harder because we got everybody’s best shot.
“Every game we played, the pressure kept mounting. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to be lucky, too. Everything has to be laid out for you for it to happen.”
Ford joined an already talented young team, one that included freshman guard Marlee Hatcher and sophomore guard Kayla Russell. The coach’s job was to blend the Ole Miss signee into his scheme, which includes changing lineups, five-player rotations and full-court pressure defense.
Russell never waivered on his coaching style.
“I think our style of play smoothed over her transition,” he said. “In our style, we play a lot of kids a lot of minutes.”
Ford said he knew the first couple of times she watched her new teammates practice that a gold ball might be coming to Pontotoc.
“I watched the way they practice, the way they worked,” she said. “I thought we could win the whole thing.”