The second winningest head coach in Du Quoin High School basketball history is coming back for a second tour of duty with the Indians. Wendell Wheeler was named head coach of the varsity team on Tuesday night, replacing Gabe Sveda who will depart for Christopher next school year.
"I'm really excited to have the opportunity," Wheeler said. "Just the chance to be a head coach again and do it at a place I love so much, I feel really blessed."
Wheeler was relieved of his duties as coach and athletic director in 2005 and at the time said he was surprised by the decision. On Tuesday night, Wheeler admitted that until recently he couldn't have envisioned a situation where he would return as varsity head coach at DHS.
"I was hurt and confused (after being let go in 2005)," said Wheeler. "I lost my mom during that season too, so it was a really rough year. My strength in my faith has helped me so much."
Wheeler has a career mark of 336-215 in twenty years as a varsity head coach and was 191-164 in twelve seasons with Du Quoin from 1993-2005. The father of 2011 DHS graduate and current John A. Logan hoopster Connor Wheeler, he has also led teams in Newton and Patoka, claiming a total of seven IHSA Regional titles in his head coaching jobs. He became an assistant at Carbondale High School following his first tenure with the Indians.
"The thing about it, I never got away from the game," said Wheeler. "I was at Carbondale where I saw a different level of ball. I watched Connor through his travels with basketball. I've just been able to really step back, learn, and reevaluate. I learned a lot, I didn't stay off to the side. I've learned I don't really want to coach basketball - I want to teach basketball, and the things to go with it."
Under Wheeler, the Indians claimed Regional championships in 1999, 2000 and 2003. In '03, the Nick Hill-led Du Quoin squad made it all the way to the Sectional Finals. Wheeler's teams at DHS won Mississippi Division titles in '02 and '03, finishing runner-up in the conference on four other occasions. He has coached five 1,000-point scorers at Du Quoin, led the Indians to the overall Carbondale Holiday Tournament crown in 1998, and established the Du Quoin Tip-Off Classic which entered its' 15th season in 2012-13.
Despite his impressive list of credentials, Wheeler says his philosophies on coaching the game have changed to a certain extent after his time working as an assistant.
"Coming out of college, my first job was as a head coach, so basically my whole life I've been a head coach," Wheeler said. "To be able to move down one seat, those eighteen inches were the longest trip of my life."
Page 2 of 2 - "Coaches all have philosophies, now I've been able to break down 'this is why I believe in this, and here's the building blocks we use to get there.' There's a reason for everything we do and everything we do is a piece of the puzzle that is our program."
Wheeler will have his hands full in 2013-14 as his varsity roster will contain only two seniors returning from this past winter's squad. The not-too-distant future, however, could be rather bright with several talented underclassmen working their way up through the program. The freshman team, which Wheeler coached this past season, got off to a 7-2 start before having three of their top players moved up to the J-V and varsity levels.
"The freshmen this year, what we strived to tell them and sell them on is what an opportunity we've got," said Wheeler. "We're going to get a chance to step up and be in roles that we've never been in before. Our numbers are down, but that means there's an opportunity for somebody else to step up. Not only does it give a younger guy a chance to maybe step up and see some varsity time, it gives somebody else that normally wouldn't have had the opportunity to get some J-V time."
"The big thing that we want to do is we want to build our program on the four F's - faith, family, focus and fundamentals. We've got to focus to pay attention and learn, and we've got to be great at fundamentals. We don't have a 6'5, 6'6 kid, but I know what we do have. We can do those little things and be great at them, and that's going to carry us a long way."