Montevallo’s Dickinson named Coach of the Year

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

With six teams winning 20-plus games and two making it to the Elite 8, picking a Coach of the Year for Shelby County was one of the most difficult pieces of the postseason puzzle to put together.

Chris Laatsch, the head guy at Helena, led the Huskies to 23 wins this season and several tournament victories before falling in the Sub-Regionals to eventual state champion Paul Bryant. Pelham’s Joel Floyd picked up 21 wins and spot in the Elite 8 before also falling to Paul Bryant by just four points.

Calera’s George Drake led Calera to 21 wins in a very impressive season with the Eagles. Vincent’s John Hadder and Chelsea’s Nicholas Baumbaugh also had impressive years. Hadder continues racking up 20-plus wins like it’s a walk in the park and Baumbaugh led the Hornets to their most wins in the school’s history. And not to mention Briarwood head coach Bobby Kerley leading the Lions to their first postseason appearance since 2006.

The award could only go to one coach, however, and that coach is none other than Montevallo’s Gregory Dickinson. It’s not just Dickinson’s run to the Elite 8 or his county-high 25 wins, but what he did with this team over the course of the season and the seniors’ careers.

Dickinson’s first year at Montevallo came four years ago meaning he has been with this group of seniors every step of the way making it a special one for him.

“This is my special year,” he said. “It means a lot to have the success we have had because I know they will carry that on the hard work they’ve learned from me into adulthood.

“This was a very special group, if I had to pick a favorite group this would be one of them. It was tough for them not to win the championship, but to see them after the game and to see the tears in their eyes let me know how much they believed and fought.”

That loss he is speaking of came in the Elite 8 to Midfield in a rough way as they fell to the Patriots 103-56. A lot of people who watched that game were probably confused as to why Dickinson was sitting down the entire time and why I would pick a coach that doesn’t fight for his team in such a pivotal moment.

In a rule that I have never seen enforced, due to grazing the rim in warmups, the Bulldogs started the game with a technical. Part of the rule is that a coach loses his coaching box and has to remain seated through the games entirety.

“After it happened they came over and explained all of that to me and I just said I had never seen that rule enforced before when a player gets a technical,” Dickinson said. “It killed me to not be able to fight for my guys and really coach in such a pivotal moment, but had I stood up or disagreed with anything the rest of the way I would have been tossed.”

The calmness in which he handled the game showed his leadership and the reason he is this year’s coach of the year. He has not only turned Montevallo into a contender the last couple of seasons, but has exemplified a leadership that his student athletes will benefit from for the rest of their lives.

When asked what he enjoyed most about coaching basketball, he responded promptly and loudly, “the relationships.”

“Building the relationships with kids and seeing them change for the better is why I do this,” he said.

His first year at the helm with the Bulldogs was a rough one academically. He was having to sit kids and make them write papers during games because they didn’t care about school or their grades at all.

In almost a Coach Carter type of déjà vu, Dickinson remembered one of the games that changed the future for not only his senior this year, but the Montevallo program.

“We were playing Calera and the gym was packed to where they couldn’t let anybody else in,” he said. “I got progress reports the day before and it was nothing but F’s.

“So I sat all of the starters and moved up several junior varsity guys to start that game. We somehow won that game, but I think that was the biggest wakeup call because I haven’t had that problem since that day.”

His kids took the feeling of that embarrassment and turned it into passion to become better students, which in turn helped them work better as a team on the court.

“Seeing them not caring about grades and all of a sudden caring if they make the honor roll or not, those are kids that are going to go on to be successful,” Dickinson said. “Basketball comes second, but having a student come back and say thank you is what makes this job special.”

This year Da’Shaunte Smith was the epitome of Dickinson’s movement. Early in the season you got the sense that he was just trying to show out and do whatever he could to have the most points. As the year went on, he almost grew up right in front of coach Dickinson’s eyes as he became much more of a team player and leader.

“He has matured and grown a lot since playing on my first team as a freshman,” he said. “By the end of this year it was almost like having another coach on the floor and really helped our team.

The entire team came together down the stretch and it showed as several guys were scoring in double figures and grabbing double-digit rebounds as well, thanks to the team unity Dickinson preached.

“Overall we learned that playing together we have a better chance of being successful,” he said. “It was amazing to see this team transform from day one to the end of the year.”

Whether it be the leadership, team unity, importance of academics or a different player leading in prayer before and after every practice or game, coach Dickinson is doing things the right way and preparing young men for life.

He gave one final message to his seniors moving on in life, a message they can take with them from the pregame locker room speeches into the real world, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best. Say no more.”