April 10, 2010 11:09:00 PM
At the beginning of the basketball season, Pickens County coach Russ Wallace believed his team was a year away from contending for a state championship.
Wallace experienced a tumultuous offseason when he had to kick two starters and three other players off the team, and he didn''t know how his players would respond.
"We had so many problems during the summer," Wallace said. "We had to kick some kids off. We had a lot of situations going on.
"My mindset going into the start of the season was, ''Hey, we''ve got to get these guys ready because next year we''re going to have a legit shot at winning the state championship.'' That was really my thought process going into the year because I knew I had Deion (Curry) as a junior and I knew I had these sophomores (LaJuan Doss and Nick Stewart)."
But much to Wallace''s surprise, the Tornadoes put it together quicker than he anticipated and won the first state championship in Pickens County history this season.
Pickens County capped a 27-2 season by outlasting Houston County 88-86 in triple overtime in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A championship game at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center in Birmingham, Ala., on Feb. 25.
Curry was instrumental in leading the Tornadoes to the title by pouring in a game-high 31 points in the championship game.
For their roles in leading Pickens County to the championship, Wallace is The Commercial Dispatch West Alabama boys coach of the year, and Curry is the boys player of the year.
Curry, a 5-foot-11 guard, was at his best in the postseason. He scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Lanett in the Class 2A, Central Regional championship game on Feb. 18 and scored 17 points against Sand Rock in the state tournament semifinals on Feb. 23 before leading the way in the title game.
He picked up the scoring load for the Tornadoes in the postseason and finished the season averaging 13.8 points per game. He also averaged 5.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.4 steals.
He was instrumental in all three games despite throwing up at halftime of the Lanett game, colliding with an opposing player in the Sand Rock game and crashing into press row in the Houston County game.
"I think his leadership, not only from a vocal standpoint, but from how he played, kind of carried the team and bonded the team," Wallace said. "The team kind of all joined in with him. They had that never give up, never say die attitude."
Wallace said his players played with a demeanor he had been looking for 13 years as the head coach and two years as an assistant coach.
Curry, who earned all-state honors by the Alabama Sports Writers Association, was especially clutch against Houston County when the Tornadoes scored seven points in the final 8.8 seconds of the third overtime to rally from an 86-81 deficit. He made a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8.8 seconds left to make it 86-84 and then he grabbed a rebound, was fouled and made two free throws with 5.9 seconds to go to tie the score 86-86.
"A lot of people thought we''d do all right and have a better team next season," Curry said. "Of course, us players had confidence in ourselves and we wanted to prove everybody wrong. I knew I probably wasn''t the most talented player on the team, but I knew I had to be a leader to help the young guys that didn''t have that much experience.
"(Down the stretch against Houston County) My whole dream was to get to the state championship and the only thing going through my head was we got to the state championship and what are we going to do now? Are we going to lose and have to start all over again? That is something the team didn''t want to do. Like I said earlier in the season, we were always able to pull a rabbit out of the hat. That''s the way it happened."
Curry was also The Commercial Dispatch West Alabama defensive football player of the year and he''ll have to make a choice between basketball and football when it comes to college.
"Growing up I used to just love football," Curry said. "I wasn''t too good at basketball. I used to play it just to have fun. Now it''s like I''m starting to pick up a passion for basketball."
Meanwhile, Wallace led the Tornadoes to the title when he believes he had better teams in the past. Pickens County won despite not having the dominating player inside like in the past with 6-6 DeAndre Hersey (who plays basketball at South Alabama) and 6-6 Michael Williams (who plays football at Alabama).
"I felt like going into this year I had to take somewhat of a different approach because we had so much youth," Wallace said. "And Deion, even though he was just a junior, he was actually the most experienced play I had coming back because he started in the ninth grade.
"We had a small team. We were used to having the 6-6s. We had Hersey and Michael Williams (in 2008) and the next year we had Dreek (Mardrecas Hood) and he was about 6-3 and we were a real athletic team."
Wallace began to believe the Tornadoes could contend for a state title when they played Class 6A No. 1 Tuscaloosa Hillcrest in a Christmas tournament and lost by five points.
"That game made me realize it," Wallace said. "I even told the kids, ''You know you showed me something right there.'' When they showed me that it made me re-think about this basketball team because I saw something in this team I''ve been trying to get out of my kids at Pickens County for 15 years.
"This bunch had the heart and desire to where they didn''t want to lose. That tournament changed my perception of this basketball team."
Pickens County loses three seniors from this year''s team.
With Curry and nine other players returning next season, the Tornadoes will look to defend their title.