McBrayer quickly turned around St. Al’s fortunes|[3/26/06]

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 27, 2006

The results didn’t show up until this season. The turnaround at St. Aloysius started long before that.

After losing a host of seniors to graduation at the end of the 2003-04 season, coach Drew McBrayer started a slew of young players upon his arrival in the fall of 2004. It took a half season of losing before they won their first game together. And now, after the first winning campaign at the school since 1969, it seems like they can’t stop.

St. Al finished 22-9 this season, one year after going 8-21. Since starting the 2004-05 season 0-12, McBrayer has led the Flashes to a 30-18 record and turned around the fortunes of both the boys’ and girls’ programs.

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For his efforts, McBrayer has also earned the Vicksburg Post’s boys basketball Coach of the Year award. He is the first St. Al coach to win the award since 1999.

&#8220It’s nice, but it’s more for the kids than me,” McBrayer said. &#8220It’s the hard work they put in. It’s definitely an honor, but it shows how much they’ve worked in the last year and a half.”

St. Al has had plenty of success in football and baseball over the years, but it never seemed to translate to the basketball court. The Flashes have not won a playoff game since 1970, a streak that continued with this year’s South State satellite loss to Thomastown.

Despite that loss, the program has turned around 180 degrees. The Flashes won the regular-season Division 7-1A title, hosted a satellite game for the first time and went 6-1 in overtime contests. The one loss was to Thomastown, on a tip-in at the buzzer.

The seeds of the turnaround were planted in last season’s disastrous start, McBrayer said.

With so many young players on the court, he expected them to take their lumps and they did. The team went nearly two months without playing at home and lost a dozen straight games – most of them by double-digits.

The Flashes pressed on, though, gaining valuable experience. And by the end of the year they had turned a corner. They went 8-9 in the second half of the season and won two games at the division tournament to advance to the South State satellite game. Dexter drubbed St. Al 89-54 in that game, but it was clear the Flashes would be a team to be reckoned with in 2005-06.

&#8220We were so young last year and got a lot of experience. They had to learn how to win and get that attitude. They started to get that at the end of last year, and built on that,” McBrayer said.

And now, McBrayer and the Flashes hope to continue building.

Only one senior, backup guard Daniel Halinski, will be lost from this year’s team. Leading scorer and rebounder Chase Smith (19.3 points, 11.7 rebounds per game) is back next season, as are J.R. Burnett and Marsh Willis. Both players averaged more than 10 points per game.

With so much talent back, the Flashes will expect to break their long playoff losing streak and make their mark in school history.

&#8220You look out there and you’re starting four juniors and a sophomore, and you hope you’re building for something,” McBrayer said with a smile.