Helena building up for success under new coach Graham

Published 11:49 pm Monday, November 6, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

With a new coach in Lake Graham from Vestavia Hills, the Helena Huskies are going back to basics.

As Graham seeks to turn around a Huskies team that had a 7-18 season last year, he has put a renewed focus on fundamentals to help players get the little things that win ball games right.

In addition, his goal is to build a solid culture from the top down at Helena, from the varsity team to the middle school to every aspect of Helena girls basketball, so that they can successfully build for the future.

“We have put a huge priority on number one, our culture and the standard to which we’re going to prepare every single day to be as successful as we can be,” Graham said. “And we know that that starts with taking care of the simple things first, a huge emphasis on fundamentals, getting to where things like passing and catching and shooting are worked on to where they are second nature to us, to where we can then continue to develop, but not looking past those things.”

The biggest change was a completely new offensive system focused more on shooting than in the past. As with any change, there was a learning curve for the players over the summer, but the Huskies are adapting well and becoming more of a cohesive unit as the season starts.

“We have a completely different offense,” Brooklyn Kelley said. “We’ve never ran anything like this before. So of course, we’ve struggled with getting it, understanding it and executing it, but I feel like it’s starting to come all together now.”

Instead of adapting to each opponent, Graham wants the Huskies to have more confidence in their brand of basketball and use that to control the tempo.

Helena’s goal is to play with more pace than in the past, shoot more open shots and be the aggressor on offense and defense. That may mean a more limited playbook of set plays, but the hope is that it makes the Huskies a more consistent and dangerous team.

In fact, Graham went as far as to hope that opponents hate playing against Helena.

“We want to make the other team uncomfortable,” Graham said. “We want them to never want to have to play us again at the end of the game. That is the goal. We want to be somebody that from tip to tip, we’re in your face, we are the aggressor, we try to control as much of the game’s flow as we can on both sides of the ball.”

Helena has a solid foundation of players returning, including four seniors and three starters. Kelley, Mackenzie Meyers and Claire Schultz will all be key senior leaders for the team, and Graham said they have done an outstanding job adapting to the new culture and caring about what is being built this year and in the future.

The Huskies also have an exciting junior class, including experienced leaders like Mallory Rhodes and Jaterrica Moody and a pair of quickly improving post players who are new to varsity in Destiny Brashears and Anna Grace Johnson.

Helena’s goal is to rely on its veterans to set the tone early but allow the younger players to grow into their roles and become more key contributors later in the year.

That includes breakout candidates like Amari Grant, an athletic sophomore post player who is strong on both ends, Lauren Smith, a solid sophomore shooter, and Hannah Satterfield and Isabel Heintz, two freshmen who have improved day in and day out.

The Huskies will get a lot of names involved in the rotation this year, and Graham has put an emphasis on players working their way into playing time versus worrying about who the starters are or who the leading scorer is each game.

Expect a fluid group as the team finds its identity and strong suits, but despite the changes and new faces, players like Myers said that team chemistry is growing and the they have already made improvements from where they were a year ago.

“I can already see the difference that we made from last year to this year, so I think it’s going to be a good season,” Myers said.

While the goal is to build for the future, Graham doesn’t want to put a ceiling or expectation on this group. He believes that if they come together and play their best basketball in area play against Pelham and Briarwood, then the sky is the limit.

“I told the girls I’m not trying to freak them out with how good I think we could be, but I’m not going to put a limit on it,” Graham said. “I think that we are the type of team right now that if we are playing the way that we can at the right time, there’s no telling how far we can go.

“Obviously, area championship is on our list of goals, but I would never go so short as to say that that’s our only goal. We want to go as far as we possibly can. I think that we are slowly but surely going to become a team that can do that.”