Little by little and piece by piece, Ty Wilson’s team is climbing the mountain.
After a season of mostly ups and a few downs, the fourth-year Maplewood High boys basketball coach has guided his Panthers back to the state tournament, an event they will return to this week in Murfreesboro.
Wilson and the Panthers drew Carter High out of East Tennessee as their opening round foe in the Class AA quarterfinals. Maplewood will tip Thursday at 10 a.m. against the Hornets out of Strawberry Plains at MTSU’s Murphy Center.
Wilson saw his first team make an early exit in the district tournament in ’07 to Hunters Lane. A quarterfinal, then a semis loss in the region tournaments have followed the past two seasons, including a very disappointing, virtual no-show debacle to Franklin last year which ended their season.
“We’ve had some difficulties during the season, but our players have kept their focus and played through them,’’ said Wilson.
Maplewood played its entire home season at Dalewood Middle School after construction was going on to complete its new gym. With the team and especially the seniors hopeful of getting to play the late season at home, construction delays kept it from happening.
Maplewood played its sectional game at Whites Creek, rather than at home. Wilson himself was suspended for two games in the district tournament after getting two technical fouls in a regular season ending game at Overton Feb. 12.
“It has been enjoyable to watch our team stay strong through the adversity, pull through and reach their goal of making state,’’ he said.
Maplewood has broken through, winning both the district and region championships, the latter title coming when Wilson beat his old mentor Coach James “Doc’’ Shelton of M.L. King in the finals. They followed that with an impressive sectional win over Spring Hill, trouncing the Raiders 70-49.
A very strong schedule helped beef up the Panthers for tournament toughness.
“We’ve played a very tough schedule this year,’’ Wilson said. “We’ve played really good teams like Northeast, Overton, Hunters Lane and Shelbyville, at a time when they were ranked No. 2,’’ he said. “That really helped us.’’
Maplewood is making its first state tournament appearance since back-to-back Class AAA trips under the late coach Winston Gamble and star guard Spencer Richardson in ’01 and ’02. The ’01 team reached the semis, and the ’02 team lost in the quarters.
Shelton helps mentor Wilson
Wilson gives a great deal of credit to MLK’s Shelton, whom he used to work under, with a good deal of his success.
“Coach Shelton has been very supportive of me and a big influence on my style of coaching,’’ Wilson said of Shelton who has coached teams who won state twice. “He’s been to state six times, and I’ve tried to obtain as much of that coaching experience as possible. He and I talk frequently.’’
Shelton’s 1991 and 1996 teams at MLK won state. Wilson is looking for similar results and hoping his team can make a deep run and perhaps capture the gold ball this week.
Marshall County knocked off MLK in sectionals, preventing Wilson’s friend Shelton from joining him at the tournament. But his main focus will be Carter High in state.
“At this point, we don’t know much about Carter except that they are very good,’’ Wilson said. “We’ll try to get some tapes on them and get a scouting report on them Monday or Tuesday.’’
Asked if he was fearful his team might suffer from some state tournament jitters in spacious Murphy Center, Wilson said, “no, I don’t. After what we’ve gone through this season, I don’t think the surroundings will affect our players negatively.’’
Besides the standout play of post player Robert Wade, Wilson pointed to freshman Jeleel Quearry who has played well lately.
“I have two other freshmen, Kenny Roberson and Jason Stone who aren’t playing like freshmen any more. Those two have really picked their play up 100 percent,’’ he said.