July 21, 2014 2:36:04 PM
PHEBA -- Longtime Mississippi high school basketball coach Bruce Franks admits he wasn't about to change his ways when he took over the Hebron Christian School basketball programs last season.
Instead, Franks asked two young teams to work hard and then pushed them further than anyone would have thought possible.
"I am a head strong individual," Franks said. "I know what will win. The main thing is to get the players to understand how to do these things (to be successful). Once you get a little taste of winning, you have something to build on. Once you have a little success, then the players will respond to the challenge and they will realize you have their best interests at heart."
Franks coached 28 seasons at Mississippi High School Activities Association-member Houston High School.
After retiring from the public school system, Franks took over the boys and girls programs at Mississippi Association of Independent Schools-member Hebron Christian prior to the 2013-14 basketball season.
In his first season with the Eagles, both Hebron Christian squads advanced to the MAIS Class A state tournament. The Lady Eagles finished 25-6 and played in the MAIS Overall State tournament for the first time.
For this success, Franks is The Dispatch's All-Area Basketball Small School Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
"Even though the playing level is different here, hard work is still hard work," Franks said. "When I first started coaching, the goal was to have five players better than anybody else. Things are different here because you need all the players you can get from a numbers standpoint. You want everybody involved. You want every member of your team to be part of the equation.
"Whether you are a four-star recruit or a first-year player, nothing substitutes for hard work. As long as you work hard and each player believes in one another, you will have success. I believe you can have a lot of success that way."
Lots of new faces
The Hebron Christian girls only had two seniors -- Subrina Oswalt and Alaina Hill -- on the roster. Hill returned to the school after playing her junior season at East Webster High, so a bunch of new faces had to learn how to play with each other and how to play for a new coach.
"In the past, it was always about running and conditioning," said Hebron Christian's Holly Hudson, a freshman starter this past season. "That is how we thought you got ready to play basketball. We quickly learned how much more there was to the game this year. Through (Franks') leadership, we learned so much more about the game.
"We worked harder than we ever had. However, we knew what we were working for. We could tell he really believed in us. He worked with each individual player on their deficiencies. It is important to work on your team deficiencies, too. But he also made sure to work with each player to make them better."
Even though the squad was young, Franks saw a strong work ethic in the early workouts.
"We had some early success," Franks said. "When you have that early success, everybody is going to buy in a little bit more. Once we got going in the right direction, it made the transition period that much easier for everybody involved."
"Early success is important because it gives you momentum. In every season, there are going to be challenges along the way. You are always eager to see how your group responds to the adversity. Keeping momentum and responding to adversity are my two biggest keys to a season. I thought we did both of those well."
While the Lady Eagles relied on a starting lineup, including freshmen Hudson and Rebekah Falkner and sophomore Victoria Ferguson, Franks said the leadership role of Oswalt and Hill couldn't be understated. That leadership will be missed in 2014-15, when Hebron Christian won't have any seniors on the roster.
"This season was about a lot of young kids learning how to play ball," Franks said.
"You really have to have some experienced players to make the younger players' jobs that much easier. Young kids will learn how to lead. You will find the cream always rises to the top. We had nowhere to go but up when I got here. This was a very good first step."
Hebron Christian lost to Carroll Academy 56-43 in the district championship game. The Lady Eagles were bidding for their first district title since 2007.
Earning some payback
Hebron Christian earned revenge a week later with a 62-48 victory in the third-place game of the Class A state tournament. The victory sent the squad to the Overall State tournament, where it lost to Class AA power Leake Academy.
"Early in the year, we played a lot of close games and we might have a loss here or there because of a missed layup or a missed free throw," Franks said. "At the end of the year, we were winning those games because we had been in that position. You can't underestimate the importance of playing against big-named opponents in big-time atmospheres.
"Even though Leake beat us handily, the girls saw the type of team we want to be and what it will take to get there. We had stretches where we played Leake on even terms, but their depth got us in the end. They now understand all about the hours you will have to put in to reach that level. It is exciting when a team realizes they have that potential to be an elite team. Now you just have to work that much harder to reach those goals."
A Pontotoc native, Franks graduated from Pontotoc High, Itawamba Junior College, and Ole Miss. The coaching career followed and included a brilliant run at Houston High, where he coached both basketball programs, the track teams, and the baseball team. Being the son of a military drill sergeant, hard work was a given when he was growing up. He is passing those same expectations down to his basketball players.
"This has been a challenging and rewarding position," Franks said. "The kids are hungry and they are extremely hard workers. They come every day ready to get better. As a coach, you want to be in that situation. If you have that, the success will follow."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter