Both the Guntersville boys and girls fell last week to Plainview in their home opener. But it’s a new era in Wildcat basketball and there was an indelible buzz in the air on this special night.
The gym was packed. Regulars say there were more fans in attendance than they’d seen in awhile.
And those fans liked the brand of basketball they saw, with the teams hustling up and down the floor, playing up-tempo.
To be certain, this was no cupcake the Wildcats opened with. The Plainview boys have been to the 3A state championship game the last 3 seasons and they’ve won the last two 3A state titles. The Plainview girls’ coach is as intense as they come and he’s coaching his team hard for 32 minutes every game, trying to get the Lady Bears in the hunt for a state title as well.
They are not the kinds of squads most folks schedule for their home opener.
There are no such things as “moral victories” for coaches like Guntersvilles Brett Self and Heather Powell, but their teams fought and scrapped for 4 quarters and never hung their heads. Both teams enjoyed nice boosts in the second half, with the coaches obviously making critical halftime adjustments.
It’s a simple fact for the Guntersville boys that 8 of the 12 varsity players were playing football one week before the basketball opener. Self had them for just 4 practices before opening the season. Two of the players were out with football injuries and one was sick.
Still, it was a good show for the Wildcats and it promises to only get better as both the girls and boys get some experience under their belts. As former GHS coach Ronnie Stapler so often said, it’s not how you start, but how you finish and these squads have promise.
Plainview hit an incredible 18 three-pointers and that might have been the biggest difference in the boys game as Plainview won 85-72.
“You’re not going to see that most nights,” Wildcat fan Butch Looney commented after the game.
Plainview led at the quarter breaks 27-17, 44-36 and 71-47.
Guntersville outscored the Bears 25-14 in the 4th quarter and got within 13.
“Plainview hits its shots,” Self said. “But I’m proud of our guys. They didn’t give up. They kept fighting.”
Ben Fussell led Guntersville with 27 points. Cooper Davidson added 15 and Brandon Fussell added 11.
Two sets of brothers were in Guntersville’s starting lineup, Brandon and Ben Fussell and Campbell and Tucker Leach.
Plainview’s Willingham and Millican scored 23 apiece and J. Williams added 19.
It was 17-7 Plainview after a quarter for the girls. The Lady Bears were up 31-12 at the half. But Guntersville battled Plainview to a 14-12 third quarter. Plainview won 54-34.
Guntersville was led by Abigail Gaston with 8. Kaiya Gregg and Tazi Harris added 6 each.
For Plainview, Tobi Traffer scored 18 and Elaine Pucksill 14.
While the outcome wasn’t what Coach Heather Powell wanted (she coached at Plainview for 15 years and knows all the girls on that team), she sees the progress her Wildcat team is making
“We missed some easy shots,” she said. “You have to make those when you’re playing a team like Plainview.”
Hitting a few more of those shots, grabbing a few more rebounds and committing a few less turnovers would have made it a much closer game.
“We got some open looks,” Powell said. “That was good. Plainview plays hard-nosed defense and it was good to see our team getting those looks.”
She said the team is buying in to working hard, making the extra pass and doing things the right way.
“You have to play hard for 32 minutes and it hurts sometimes,” Powell said. “But it’s worth it.”
The new look basketball under Coaches Self and Powell got a ringing endorsement from one former Wildcat with pretty big credentials.
Phillip Collie played on Guntersville’s 1975 state championship team.
He then coached a Guntersville team to the Final 4 when he returned to town years later.
“This is what Guntersville basketball is supposed to be, up-tempo, moving fast,” Collie said. “They’re going to be pretty good by the end of the year, both the boy and the girls.”
Back on the Court
A Lady Wildcat from former days is back on the court as an assistant varsity coach and the JV girls coach this season. It’s Lindsey Hudgins Hornbuckle.
Old-time Wildcat fans will remember her as the redheaded point guard on Guntersville’s teams that went to the Final 4 in 1999 and 2000. She was the starting point guard for the Lady Wildcats her junior and senior year.
She has coached junior high previously in Guntersville, but it has been awhile.
“I’m excited to be coaching again,” Hornbuckle said. “It’s a challenge to be a wife, a mother, a teacher and a coach, but I am enjoying it.”
She said the Plainview program has things Guntersville would like to emulate.
“They play hard, but they do it with class,” she said. “They get after you the full 32 minutes. That’s what we’re trying to teach and the culture we’re trying to instill.”
At least one “celebrity” was in the house for Guntersville’s home opener, although Wildcat fans just view him as home folks.
Former Wildcat coach and University of Alabama women’s coach Rick Moody took in the action, hanging out with former Wildcat Brad Bruce on the end line during the game.
Moody famously took his boys’ team to the state tournament in Tuscaloosa in 1989 and he stayed, becoming the Alabama coach. He is the winningest women's basketball coach in University of Alabama history with 310 college victories. He later coached at Syracuse and has done ESPN analyst work.
He lives in Guntersville now.
“He still works individually with a lot of the kids on the Guntersville team,” Bruce said.
You almost never see coaches working in a concession stand of all places.
But Guntersville coaches Capper Reed and Ryan Thomas were there for the home opener, serving hot dogs, barbecue, soft drinks and the like.
“We’ve got to do our part to help raise some money for sports,” Reed said with a grin when asked what coaches were doing behind the counter of the concession stand.
Asked what the best item on the menu was, Thomas didn’t miss a beat.
“Barbecue sandwich,” he said.
Odds & Ends
Perhaps the most intense person in the gym for the Plainview-Guntersville games was 2nd year Plainview girls coach Luke Griggs. He coached his team hard for the full 32-minutes and he roved the sideline like a caged Tiger. He was actually pretty fun to watch.
“Our last 2 shots were blocked,” he shouted to his players at one point. “If your shot is getting blocked, you’re not open.”
Griggs is excited about his team and is just trying to get them to the point of making a playoff run. They’re in a tough area and got put out in the area tournament last year.
Plainview boys’ coach Robi Coker won the most dapper look award Friday night, wearing a bright royal blue blazer. Fans say he dresses like that for every game. “It obviously works,” one Plainview fan said.“He’s got two state championship rings.”
All in: Jeff Jones, operations and special education supervisor for the Schools of Guntersville, has a side gig. The former DAR player is keeping the official stat book for the Guntersville girls this season.
“I told Heather I would do whatever I cold to help out,” he said.
He and his wife Roseanne are both DAR grads. Roseanne played on DAR’s state championship team in the late 1980s. The Joneses’ daughter Emily is recuperating from ACL surgery and could rejoin the team late in the season.