Danville hoops still in his heart
BIRMINGHAM — One of Danville High's proudest fans sat in one corner of the end zone of the Hawks' state semifinal game against Sumter County on Wednesday.
Even though Wayne Bowling retired as Danville's boys basketball coach four years ago, he said he feels just as happy for the current players' success as if he had coached them himself.
In a way, he did.
He coached the fathers of current players Matt Young, Dexter Wimberley, Stratton Garner and Chris Vest. He coached two uncles of Nate Orr. He coached two older brothers of Patrick Pinchon.
And during his first year at Danville, he coached Robert Pope, the current Hawks coach. Pope was Bowling's starting center.
"I get great satisfaction out of seeing the team do well," said Bowling, 63, who won 684 games during 1963-2001. "I'm just tickled to death for them. They're a good team, and they're good kids, too. I like to see good kids do well."
The current Danville squad includes six seniors — Pinchon, Orr, Wimberley, Young, D.J. Bridges and Thomas Garner. They were eighth-graders during Bowling's final season, and Bowling had a few brief opportunities to work with them.
"They didn't play on the ninth-grade team, but they did come down to the gym some, and I got to see them some," Bowling said. "You knew then that they would be a good group.
"They knew how to play the game, and they played well together. They all knew their roles."
The Hawks' 2005 team is the first boys squad from the school to make the Final Four since Bowling led his 1992 team there.
That came during a run in the 1990s when Bowling put together some of the state's best Class 3A squads.
The 1992 squad advanced to the state finals before losing to South Lamar 87-68. Darryl Wilson scored 40 points for South Lamar in that one, before advancing to Mississippi State, where he helped the Bulldogs make the NCAA Final Four in 1996.
For Danville in that game, Mark Brown had 17 points, while Rodney Mason and Rodney Bradford each had 16.
Bowling followed with three more great teams in 1993, '94 and '95, each of which probably were among the 10 best 3A teams in the state. However, each one lost in the playoffs to Winfield, which was led by another future Mississippi State player, Bart Hyche.
The last two losses came in the Northwest Regionals by a combined three points.
"The 1995 team was probably my best offensive team," Bowling said. "They averaged 96 points a game and scored over 100 eight times.
"With a little luck, all three of those teams that lost to Winfield could've made it here (to the Final Four)."
Bowling said he still follows Danville basketball closely. He attended four regular-season games and the Hawks' area tournament.
He also attended several West Morgan games. His brother, Ricky Bowling, coaches West Morgan and clinched his 300th career victory this season.
Ricky attended Danville's semifinal game with Wayne.
Does Wayne miss coaching?
That's an easy one for him to answer.
"I do," he said. "I miss coaching. Most of all, I miss being around the kids. I always liked being around them."
He said he doesn't regret retiring and doesn't have an overwhelming desire to return.
"But it is hard to sit up here and not coach," Bowling said. "As long as I was in it, you can't help but miss it."
For now, he's content to watch Pope and the current players continue a tradition he oversaw for 37 seasons.