Dickinson, Smith, Niven named Coach of Year

Coaches are a dime a dozen, yet there are instances in a season or career that can make the profession not worth two cents.

Receiving little to no recognition during the good times, yet often being the main target of criticism when things go south. That’s just the lay and the land when it comes to the coaching profession.

Endless hours of preparation and overcoming adversity enabled Charles Dickinson and Kevin Smith to acquire success in 2009. The honor of being recognized as Shelby County’s Co-Coaches of the Year is a well-deserved return on investment. The same can be said for Montevallo girls’ coach Tena Niven.

In all his years of coaching, Dickinson, who is commonly known as “Coach D,” has seen Shelby County Wildcat teams that had talent galore. He’d tell you this year wasn’t the norm. Yet, it turned out to be and unforgettable one.

“During summer camp, we wanted to concentrate on offense,” Dickinson said. “I was concerned with scoring and camp proved that we couldn’t score. We left camp feeling like it would be a long year.”

Little did Dickinson know a 23-7 season and a 5A, Area 8 Championship would be on the horizon.

“We never gave any thought to it,” Dickinson said. “We were just hoping to stay above .500. This group played great defense, they were selfless, and they just got it done.

“I think the world of this team; they won despite not having greatness. They did it the old fashion way — they earned it. This season was very rewarding for me; it was a great ride. This group stands alone and I think this is one we’ll use to compare some future teams to.”

Even Smith saw the influence Dickinson had on the Wildcats.

“Shelby County had a better year than most expected them to have. I believe Coach D was a big part of it,” Smith said. “I feel like he deserves (the award) for getting the most out of his players this year.”

Just down the road at Shelby Academy, Smith knew what he had taking the court in 2008-09. However, that blueprint was quickly ripped to shreds when three players exited from the Raider program and his second leading scorer departed at Christmas break.

“Being able to overcome all of that and win the state title is really a credit to the players,” Smith said. “They really rallied around each other.”

The early-season transfers changed the Raider game plan tremendously and diminished depth if nothing else. In return, it forced Smith’s green and white squad to be more fundamentally sound, control the tempo of games, and find a starting lineup that fit their niche.

“I thought we were going to be able to play eight or nine deep,” Smith said. “That would have allowed us to push tempo more and extend our defense further up the court.

“Basically we had to make the most out of every trip down the floor and limit our opponent’s opportunities. Our goal was to play well enough to have a chance to win at the end of the game and then have the mental toughness to finish.”

A season that once looked like rags, panned out to be full of riches for the Raiders when the final buzzer sounded in Montgomery.

“I’m just extremely proud of the guys for staying focused and overcoming the challenges the season put in front of them. The four seniors on the team deserve the most credit for keeping the guys on track. Their leadership was the difference,” Smith said.

Montevallo head coach Tena Niven didn’t get a chance to see much basketball this season other than that of her own Bulldogs.

The Dawgs started the season with a last-second loss to Oak Mountain before upsetting Briarwood Christian the next day and rolling off 30-straight wins before falling in the Class 3A Central Regional in Montgomery.

“It’s been such a special year,” Niven said. “I can’t ever see me getting 30 wins in a season ever again. It’s one of those fairytale seasons. The fairytale didn’t end with a happy ending, but nevertheless the journey to get there was sweeter than anything I’d been on.”

The journey for Montevallo began in the summer at camp when Niven let her team know how the season would be.

“This year she got more mean, she got real mean,” senior point guard Alisha Gentry said. “She eased up on us last year, but this year she wasn’t playing.”

Gentry said it was a good mean, and helped the Bulldogs take the game serious.

“She’s disciplined. She tries to help us out the best way she can, getting in our heads is helping us to adjust and get out there and fix it,” Gentry said.

Niven said this was not the most talented team she’d coached, but the team’s chemistry was a large part of its success.

“This time last year, they were up here asking if they could play basketball,” Niven said.

While, she was happy with 30-2, Niven wonders if a loss may have helped things along the way.

“I don’t think these guys ever got complacent, but you have to wonder if we’d lost a game, would it have sparked us to work harder,” Niven said.

Chris Megginson contributed to this story.