When Drew Williams took over the Whitehall-Yearling High School boys basketball program in April, he hoped to develop not only solid players, but well-rounded student-athletes.
Williams, 48, replaced Mike Barcus, who resigned after his fourth season.
"This is a passion of mine," said Williams, who is a transportation engineer for the state. "Kids are a passion of mine. I want to inspire kids, motivate kids and mentor kids."
Williams brings a wealth of coaching experience to Whitehall, but is making his head coaching debut on a full-time basis.
He was an assistant coach at Brookhaven the past 18 seasons and served as an interim head coach in the program, including in 2003 after coach Bruce Howard became ill. Howard later died of liver failure.
"You always want to look for the challenge," said Williams, who guided Brookhaven to a Division I state runner-up finish in 2003. "I figured I'd done as much as I could do as an assistant coach. Even though assistant coaches are very important, you want to get an opportunity to run your own program and Whitehall was a good fit."
Williams emphasizes family values and education.
"We try to put a program in place that addresses the academic issues as well as some of the social issues," he said. "The administration has been really good about supporting me on that front. We're academics first. In some cases, we may study a couple hours before practice. We're trying to really change the culture. I don't care if a kid misses practice if he's in the library studying."
Whitehall opened with two MSL-Ohio Division games, against Worthington Christian on Dec. 3 and at Columbus Academy on Saturday, Dec. 7.
Last season, the Rams finished 8-15 overall and 6-8 in the league. They return two starters in seniors R.J. Mims (5-foot-9, guard) and D.A. Sanders (6-2, forward).
Sanders averaged 10.7 points and was second-team all-league last season, and Mims averaged 11.6 points and was honorable mention all-league.
"We're pretty much a different style of team now," Mims said. "It's more structured and more disciplined. We're hoping to win our league and go further in the (district) tournament."
Last season, the Rams lost to Caledonia River Valley 59-45 in the first round of the Division II district tournament.
Senior Chris DeClouet (6-1, forward) also has varsity experience.
Williams said he has been impressed with the play of senior Marcus Eltzroth (6-5, forward) and junior Terronte Hutchins (6-4, forward), who are new to the team.
Senior B.J. Upchurch (5-9, guard), who was named first-team all-league in football this fall, has joined the basketball program.
Other players are seniors Devonte Bell (6-3, forward) and Miles Russell (5-10, guard), juniors Cameron Barker (6-1, forward), Dwayne Williams (6-1, forward) and Malon Williams (6-1, forward), sophomore Antoine Vaughn (5-10, guard) and freshman C.J. Prater (5-10, guard).
Coach Williams said he was impressed by the turnout for tryouts. About 70 players tried out and there are about 40 in the program.
Key losses to graduation were Demetrius Carr, who led the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game and was first-team all-league and second-team all-district, and Marcus Pearce, who led the team in rebounding at 7.5 per game.
Last season, the Rams finished fifth in the MSL-Ohio behind champion Newark Catholic (13-1).
Whitehall, Academy and Bexley have remained in the realigned league, which also includes Grandview, London, Madison Plains, West Jefferson and Worthington Christian. Heath, Granville, Lakewood, Licking Valley and Newark Catholic moved to the Licking County League.
Coach Williams believes Bexley is the team to beat in the league. Last season, the Lions were fourth at 8-6.
"We want to compete for a league championship. We want to compete for the district," he said. "Our goal is to be successful. We don't talk about wins, we talk about being successful and then we feel like the wins will follow us if we're successful doing the other things."
Whitehall also has returned to its home gym after a school renovation project forced the Rams to play all of their games on the road last year.
"It's been great," coach Williams said. "The administration has been really good to me. ... The kids are responding. It's been fun. I'm actually having a ball. We've been at it now since April. It's good."
Girls basketball team loses first three
The girls basketball team was 0-3 before playing Worthington Christian on Dec. 3 in its MSL-Ohio opener.
The Rams opened with a 40-37 loss to visiting Millersport on Nov. 23. Forward Brenell Williams scored 13 points and guard R.J. Cunningham added 11 for Whitehall, which led 21-10 at halftime.
Whitehall also lost to visiting Hamilton Township 64-22 on Nov. 26 as guard Stephanie Ellis scored nine points.
On Nov. 29, the Rams lost 31-18 at Tree of Life as Williams scored eight points.
"The team is looking at each day, whether it's a game or practice, as another day to get better," coach Stephanie Jones said. "Seventeen of the 22 girls in the program are freshmen and sophomores. We currently have five freshmen dressing varsity and getting quality playing time. It is going to take time for this team to jell and adjust to the speed of the game."