Whitney not sure if this will be final home game

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 5, 2002

[03/05/02]For most of this season, the Alcorn State Braves have taken coach Davey Whitney on a victory lap around the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Alcorn (18-9, 16-2 SWAC) has won four straight and 16 of 19 since starting the season 2-6, and tonight’s first-round SWAC Tournament game against Grambling (9-16, 7-11) at the Whitney Complex would seem to be a fitting final chapter for the coach.

One last run at a SWAC title and an NCAA Tournament berth. One last dance in the gym that bears his name.

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But then again, it’s been so much fun that the 72-year-old Whitney may not be through dancing just yet, even if he reaches the biggest dance of all.

“I know a long time ago that I made the statement that this probably will be my last year, but now I’m not sure. We’re going to sit down after the season and talk about it,” Whitney said. “Right now I’m not at liberty to say what’s what. It possibly could be and it possibly could not be,” his last game on Alcorn’s bench.

Whether or not Whitney hangs up his whistle, his legend at Alcorn is secure. He’s won 493 games at Alcorn, led the Braves to 11 SWAC titles in addition to this year’s regular-season crown, and won three NCAA Tournament games.

Ninety-eight of his wins and three of his SWAC titles have come since returning to the school in 1996. He had been fired in 1989 after three straight losing seasons.

“We’ve brought the program back to respectability,” Whitney said. “Three championships in six years isn’t bad.”

He’d love to make it four in seven years, but said going out on top if he is in fact going out wasn’t as important to him as getting a good effort out of his players. That leads to winning and consistently being in the hunt for championships, he said.

“That’s never been important to me,” Whitney said. “If the kids play well, we’ll go out on top.”

For that to happen this time, the Braves will have to navigate the minefield of the SWAC Tournament. Despite their losing record, Whitney said Grambling matches up well with the Braves and will give Alcorn problems with its frontcourt.

Grambling forward Paul Haynes is averaging 20.3 points and 8.4 rebounds and was last week’s SWAC Player of the Week, while center William McDonald averages 12.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.

“It’s the fundamentals at this stage of the game,” Whitney said. “You need good frontcourt play, and they’ve got it.”

The winner of tonight’s game advances to face the winner between Texas Southern and Mississippi Valley State Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Birmingham, Ala.

Despite winning the regular-season crown, Whitney said the Braves aren’t a shoo-in to take the tournament title. He pointed to a late-season trip to Alabama A&M and Alabama State, when the Braves were swept, as proof of the league’s parity.

“We’ve had so much parity between four and eight it’s not even funny. Texas Southern has great shooters and Mississippi Valley has great shooters, but they’ll take each other out,” Whitney said. “I think it could be wide open. We might be a slight favorite, but I don’t think we’re a solid favorite because we’re 16-2.”