Helena is poised for success under new coach Graham – Shelby County Reporter

Helena is poised for success under new coach Graham – Shelby County Reporter

Helena is poised for success under new coach Graham

Published at 11:49pm Monday, November 6, 2023

Written 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 looks to turn around a Huskies team that had a 7-18 season last year, he’s refocused on the fundamentals to help players get the little things that win ballgames right.

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

“We have placed a high priority on No. 1, our culture and the standards that we will prepare for every day to be as successful as possible,” Graham said. “And we know that it starts with taking care of the simple things first, focusing heavily on the fundamentals, and getting to where things like passing, catching and shooting are worked on to where they become second nature to us, to where we can then continue to develop, but without looking at what is Beyond those things.

The biggest change is the completely new offensive system that focuses 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 adjusting well and becoming a more cohesive unit as the season begins.

“We have a completely different offense,” Brooklyn Kelly said. “We’ve never run anything like this before. So of course, we struggled to get it, to understand it, to execute it, but I feel like it’s starting to come 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 more quickly than in the past, shoot more open shots, and be the aggressor both offensively and defensively. That may mean a more limited playbook than set-pieces, but the hope is that it will make the Huskies a more consistent and dangerous team.

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

“We want to make the other team uncomfortable,” Graham said. “We want them to never want to play us again at the end of the game. That’s the goal. We want to be an end-to-end person, we’re in your face, we’re the aggressor, trying to control as much of the flow of the game as possible on both sides of the ball.”

Helena has a solid foundation of returning players, including four seniors and three starters. Kelly, Mackenzie Myers and Claire Schultz will be key senior leaders for the team, and Graham said they have done a great job adapting to the new culture and taking care of what is being built this year and into the future.

The Huskies also have an exciting freshman class, including experienced leaders in Mallory Rhodes and Jaterica Moody and a pair of rapidly improving post players new to college in Destiny Brashears and Anna Grace Johnson.

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

This includes standout candidates like Amari Grant, an athletic sophomore player who is strong on both ends, Lauren Smith, a strong sophomore player, and Hannah Satterfield and Isabel Haynes, two freshmen who are getting better every day.

The Huskies will be running a lot of names in the rotation this year, and Graham has focused on players who are making their way into the game versus worrying about who the starters are or who is the main scorer in 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 the team’s chemistry is growing and they’ve already made improvements from where they were a year ago.

“I can already see the difference 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 set a ceiling or expectations for this group. He believes if they come together and play their best district basketball against Pelham and Briarwood, the sky is the limit.

“I told the girls that I’m not trying to scare them with how good we are, but I’m not going to set limits on it,” Graham said. “I think we’re the kind of team at the moment where if we play the way we can at the right time, there’s no telling how far we can go.

“Obviously a district championship is on our goal list, but I would never boil down to saying that’s our only goal. We want to go as far as we can. I think we’ll slowly but surely become a team that can do that.”

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