Basketball preview: Vincent Yellow Jackets

Published 2:03 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Vincent's EJ Datcher will lead the way for the Yellow Jackets in 2015-16. (Contributed)

Vincent’s EJ Datcher will lead the way for the Yellow Jackets in 2015-16. (Contributed)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

VINCENT – When the dust settled last year, there was only one basketball team in the county that made a trip to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex to play in a Final Four. That was the Vincent Yellow Jackets under the direction of last season’s Shelby County Coach of the Year John Hadder. That Vincent team finished the year 23-10, and lost in the Final Four to Elba, which at the time was the defending 2A state champion, by three points after a last-second three-pointer from the Yellow Jackets drew iron, but couldn’t find the bottom of the net to force overtime.

Vincent has quietly been the most consistent boys’ basketball program in the county during Hadder’s tenure. This will be Hadder’s seventh season at the helm for Vincent, and in the six years previous to this one, the program has averaged 23 wins per season, has been in four regional final games and has gone to the Final Four twice. Last season may have been the Yellow Jackets’ most impressive run, as their star center, EJ Datcher, went down with a knee injury halfway through the season, essentially forcing Vincent to completely recalibrate its entire offense and defense in the middle of the year.

That Vincent team had seven seniors, five of which contributed meaningful minutes. That is an inordinate number of seniors for Vincent, as the 2A school’s adjusted enrollment for grades 10-12 at the 2014 reclassification was 180.8. As a result, Hadder will once again have to tailor a game plan to a roster that looks loads different than it did just eight months ago.

“I don’t think rebuilding is the right word,” Hadder said, of this upcoming season. “Because we have a lot of guys coming back who have played.”

Of the guys coming back who have played, Datcher is the most important piece. The six-foot-nine-inch, 240-pound senior tore his meniscus and his patellofemoral ligament in his knee in early December, according to Hadder, which knocked him out for the rest of the season. He’s back now, and will be a force in the post.

He will be joined by fellow senior Wesley King, who filled in for Datcher in the post last season and has steadily improved in his time at Vincent thanks to an insatiable work ethic, according to Hadder. The Vincent offense will primarily work through Datcher and King down low this year, which will be a seismic shift from the smaller, fast-paced, guard-dominant style this team played the second half of last season.

“At the perimeter spots we lost everybody,” Hadder said. “But we’ve got a couple guys who are moving up.”

Those look to be Terrell Calhoun, another senior who has seen time in the past, along with a young sophomore named Zavien Kelley who is the point guard-inherent and Stephen Campbell, an athletically gifted junior. Those three will be tasked with filling the void left by Jacorey Roper and Jace Greene.

For Hadder, the most important thing for this team, as with all his teams, to remember is that success in the past does not guarantee success in the future.

“The big thing for us is that sometimes the tendency is to think because you’ve had success for a long period of time that it just kind of happens that way,” Hadder said. “And it doesn’t. We’re not going to overwhelm folks with our talent level. We’re just not. That’s just where we’re at.”

While Hadder may not have any McDonald’s All-Americans waiting to hop on the floor, the system he has implemented at Vincent has obviously found success, and he has enough talent and good character kids this year to compete and a high-quality group.

“I’m optimistic,” Hadder said. “We’ve got one of the better groups we’ve had from a character standpoint and a work habit standpoint, this will be one of the better groups we’ve had. And when you’ve got that, you can build on it from there.”

Vincent opens the season on Nov. 17 with a home game against Winterboro.