Win No. 500 a worthy time to reflect on Preston Wilson’s coaching career

Published 9:06 pm Friday, December 17, 2021

Preston Wilson has grown up inside the walls of Sinclair Gymnasium at Brookhaven High School.

 

Not that Wilson spent his adolescence there, that happened between Monroe and Shreveport where Wilson was a state championship winning basketball player at Gibsland-Coleman High.

 

He played college baseball at Louisiana Tech and graduated from there in 1990.

In 1994, Wilson was hired to be an assistant basketball coach for Dale Kimble at Brookhaven High. A year later, Wilson was promoted to head boys’ basketball coach at BHS.

 

During a six-season span, Wilson led the Panthers to three district championships and a 151-49 record.

 

The Panthers packed out Sinclair in those days. Ladrick Simon, Melvin Smith and Thomas Terrell were part of a core that made BHS basketball one of the hottest tickets in town.

 

The state was loaded with basketball talent during that era and Wilson’s team went toe to toe with the elites. They played the vaunted Provine Posse when the Rams were the no. 1 team in the state and BHS was ranked no. 9, went to Picayune to take on future no. 5 NBA draft pick Jonathan Bender in the postseason and made it to the biggest stage — the MHSAAA state basketball tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum — three times.

 

Wilson didn’t look much older than his players back then, but he commanded their respect. He paced the sidelines, worked the referees on every whistle and coached each game like the results were a matter of life or death.

 

Read the old press clippings from that time and adjectives describing Wilson such as “fiery” and “passionate” are often used.

 

One of my best friends played for Wilson and told me a story once about his first ever varsity practice at BHS.

 

Senior lined up across the front of the court to lead the stretching routine. The tallest player on the team, a guy that everyone was expecting to step up as a senior, came out to stretch wearing a pair of sunglasses.

 

When his head coach saw the shades, the senior quickly realized he’d made a big mistake.

 

He was booted from practice, but not before Wilson gave him the kind of scolding that got everyone’s attention.

 

Message sent and message received — practice wasn’t a place that Wilson would tolerate silliness — no matter how big you were.

 

Nowadays, Wilson coaches the BHS girls’ team and this week the Lady Panthers gifted him his 500th career win.

 

If one of his senior captains this season came out with sunshades on to stretch, Wilson might tell her to take them off, but he’d probably keep practice rolling without much distraction.

 

He’s mellowed some, but Wilson has never stopped growing as a coach — which is one of his greatest strengths.

 

It was a shock when Wilson left Brookhaven High for a job at Warren Central in 2001.

 

The then 33-year-old coach wasn’t happy with the state of Sinclair Gymnasium during a time when BHS basketball was having great success. His 1999-2000 team had finished 30-6 but played in a gym that had old wooden bleachers and a scoreboard that was on its last leg.

 

The way things ended, with Wilson leaving in search of a new challenge, you probably would have never dreamed of seeing him back at BHS as anything other than the visiting coach.

 

Wilson spent two years at Warren Central before taking at job in Shreveport at Woodlawn High. His second season at WC saw him take the Viking past the district tournament for the first time in a number of seasons.

 

From there, Wilson moved even closer to his boyhood home and family to became head coach at Woodlawn High in Shreveport.

 

Those three seasons in Shreveport preceded Wilson returning to southwest Mississippi by way of Lawrence County High, where he coached the boys’ team for three seasons.

 

The return of Wilson to Brookhaven High was a shot of energy for the Panthers boys’ team beginning with the 2009-2010 season.

 

His teams won 20 games or more four of the six seasons he led the program until 2015, when Wilson made the move to the girls’ side and became head coach of the Lady Panthers.

 

His son Darrian was a senior and Wilson was able to watch him play that final season of highs school hoops rather than coach him through it.

 

Darrian is in his fourth season as a member of the basketball team at Jackson State after playing initially at Co-Lin out of high school.

 

He redshirted in his first season at JSU and since then Darrian has been voted a team captain for three straight seasons. He’ getting ready to wrap up a master’s degree while contributing on a Tiger’s squad that’ll be among the favorites this season in the SWAC.

 

Already a coach for one of the best AAU programs in the state, Darrian Wilson is the type of natural leader that players will follow if and when he becomes a high school basketball coach.

 

What does it take to get players to follow you as a coach? Is that something you’ve ever pondered?

 

There are nearly as many different ways to coach and lead as there are actual coaches and reflecting on 500 career wins by Preston Wilson is a good example of how one can grow and recenter themselves over a coaching career.

 

Make no mistake about it, the passion is still there for Wilson. He still loves to win and hates to lose. He still highlights the mistakes made by his player when they’re communicating and holds them up to a standard. He’ll still show that fire from time to time when a referee needs to hear it.

 

He also understands the world we live in though; he knows that there are more distractions available to the younger generations today than any time ever in human history.

Wilson is a big-tent guy, he wants the best student-athletes in the school to be on his team. Get them in the gym, get them in the program and then you can mold them into something.

 

If it doesn’t look like fun, if everyone is miserable — then you’re going to have a hard time filling out your roster.

 

Things have been fun over the last few season for the BHS girls’ team. They play fast, with confidence, shoot 3-pointers in transition, run at you in waves and celebrate each made shot with waving towels and big smiles.

 

His coaching staff is like a big extended family with assistants Tonya Johns, Monte Wilson, Teresa Nelson and Steven Keys filling varies spots and duties on the bench.

 

There is a section of chairs added on to the back of the BHS home-bench, similar to what you see at NBA or college basketball games when there is a large number of players and support staff needing a seat.

 

Sometimes you’ll see bad teams fighting over who gets to sit where on a packed bench or you’ll notice a good player going to the end to sit by themselves and sulk.

 

There never appears to be any of that going on when it comes to the Lady Panther’s bench, starters and subs alike are willing to sit in the back.

 

The whole team cheers together for one another. They run on and off the court — whether they’ve been in the game for two quarters or two seconds — when they’re pulled out. They’re locked in on watching the game when they’re seated.

 

Focus closely and you’ll see a team that wants to play well for their coach, but not because they’re scared of him and worried about how angry he’ll get if they make a mistake.

 

Instead, their effort comes out of appreciation for how he leads and his passion for winning. They know that their coach and his wife Sonya care for them like the team is filled with their own daughters.

 

You’ll play hard for a coach that you love — the Brookhaven High Lady Panthers and the career of Preston Wilson bear witness to that.

 

Cliff Furr is the sport editor at The Daily Leader. He can be reached via email at sports@dailyleader.com