Two minutes into the game, five Wiregrass Kings players jump off the bench and head to the scorer’s table, set to replace the starting five.
Another two minutes later, the starting five is back in.
The pattern repeats every two minutes during the first three quarters of Tuesday’s game. Throughout it all, the Kings don’t miss a beat with either rotation in the game during an eventual 102-34 rout of Emmanuel Christian.
The quality depth of players along with intense defensive pressure through quickness and court awareness plus an old school-new school style of play has the Wiregrass home school boys basketball team as Kings of the court – an 18-1 record with all but one win by more than a double-digit margin against a combination of home school and AISA teams.
The Kings have earned their success through a variety of factors, but none perhaps more important than quality depth.
Only two players play more than half the game – and both barely over half (18.1 and 17.9 average of 32 minutes). Eight average double-digit minutes of playing time and two others are at seven minutes a game.
“We have a first group and a second group,” Wiregrass Kings head coach Nolan Helder said. “They play for two minutes then the next group comes in and plays for two minutes and the other group comes back in for two minutes. Other than foul trouble or it’s a blowout, that is what we do the entire game.”
Helder, who is in his second year as head coach of the Kings after four years as a junior varsity coach, said the rotation is a comfortable one because of the abilities of all the players.
“There are 10 guys or more that I trust,” Helder said. “I coached varsity boys and girls at different times in Arkansas for eight years in public schools and I have never had a team that I had so many guys that I trusted. We could take any of those five in the top 10 or more and they would do a good job.”
Senior captains Nolan Perry and James Strickland credit the team success to chemistry plus a strong push from Helder as coach.
“The one thing that has made our team the most successful it has been in a long time is our team chemistry and a coach that has pushed us to succeed in every single play,” Perry said. “He doesn’t let up. He knows how important the little details are.”
Strickland stresses the 15 players don’t care about individual glory as long as the Kings finish with a W at the end of the day.
“We are really selfless and we all care about each other,” Strickland said. “We are not looking for individual stats. We don’t care if Nolan scores 30 or Kane (Helder) scores 15. We just want to win. We are team first.”
Six players average better than eight points a game with another at 6.6 per game. Eleven players average between 1.4 and 5.4 rebounds, eight have at least one steal per game and five have an assist or better per game with several close to 1.0 a game, again showing the team’s quality depth and unselfish play.
Perry, a 5-foot-11 guard, averages a team-high 17.7 points a game, but also excels in other facets (3.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.4 steals a game). Strickland, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard, is also a solid overall player with 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
Kane Helder, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound sophomore forward and the team’s third captain, and Christian Miller, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound guard, both average 9.8 points a game with Miller coming off the bench as part of the second group. Will Holland, a 6-foot, 130-pound sophomore guard, averages 8.9 points and a team-high 3.1 assists and Aden Spann, a 6-foot-1, 140-pound sophomore forward, averages 8.4 points and a team-high 5.4 rebounds – with both players coming off the bench with the second group.
Tanner White, a 5-foot-11, 140-pound junior, averages 6.6 points a game as a starter. Bryson Treadaway, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior and another key member of the second group, averages 4.4 points, 1.6 steals and 1.2 assists despite averaging less than 13 minutes a game. Andrew Miller, a 6-foot, 160-pound junior who joins Perry, Strickland, Helder and White in the starting lineup, is considered one of the team’s top hustling players and averages 3.1 rebounds a game while leading the team in charges taken.
Walker Messer (Sr., 6-foot, 130), Riley Treadaway (Fr., 5-6, 115), JP Sowell (Fr., 6-0, 140), Kobe Dozier (Sr., 6-3, 165), Trenton Martin (Jr., 6-1, 170) and Gideon Hobson (Sr., 6-0, 170) are other key parts of the Kings’ success.
On paper, it seems the Kings are an offensive juggernaut, averaging 88.6 points a game with four 100-plus performances and seven games between 90-99 points despite running clocks in some games. While they have strong shooters, it is defense that sets the table for the offense. Behind a full-court press, they routinely force more than 20 turnovers a game. In their latest game, they earned 29 steals, utilizing their quickness and basketball knowledge to be at the right place at the right time.
“We focus on defense a lot in practice,” Strickland said. “We spend a lot of time on that to make sure we have our rotation right. We prepare for each team. We study film and game plan really good.”
Offensively, the Kings want to run, run and run some more, often racking up a lot of fastbreak points during a game.
“We don’t really run plays,” Strickland said. “We want to get down and score as fast as possible. If we get a stop or get a rebound, we don’t look for a point guard. We just get it and go. First open shot we get, we shoot it. That is our game plan.”
It helps the Kings have plenty of solid shooters – eight players shoot better than 40 percent from the floor and the team averages 43 percent overall despite averaging 84 field goal attempts per game. They also have 3-point weapons, particularly Perry (52 threes) and White (34 threes), and average 10.1 made 3-pointers a game.
The Kings are also a blue-collar team. With only one player at 6-foot-3 and no player above 180 pounds, they are mostly small in size compared to most opponents, but they block out for rebounds and often sacrifice their bodies to try and draw charges. In 19 games, the Kings have 29 charges taken from nine different guys, led by Miller with 12.
Because of their style of playing fast on offense, shooting a lot of threes and forcing pressure, the Kings have elements of new school basketball – the so called “pace and space” game – but they also work on fundamentals and have old school philosophies of blocking out and taking charges.
“We have played some teams where the refs will say, ‘Taking charges and blocking out, that is old school,’” Helder said. “Well, that is what we do. If that is old school then we are old school because we don’t have a chance to beat a lot of teams we beat if we can’t do those things in my opinion like being disciplined and sacrificing your body.
“We are new school too. The craze in NBA and college is ‘pace and space’ and play fast and shot a bunch of threes. We have done that. We have had numerous games where we have shot over 30 threes. We have games where we have made almost 20 threes.”
Perry and Strickland agree that the old school, new school description fits the Kings.
“I think that is perfect,” Perry said. “I think it sums it up right. We have got old school things like taking charges, things that teams don’t do that much anymore. People like to try to jump over people and get rebounds and look as cool as possible. Nobody wants to put their body on the line to take a charge in the middle of the game, but he (Helder) has really shown us that those little plays that show your teammates that you are willing to give yourself up for the team are important. We also play like an NBA team in the way we space the floor, run and shoot the three.”
Helder said those elements are important for a team that has little size and isn’t the most athletic team, though there are a few quality athletes on the Kings roster.
“They have come to see there are ways to win other than athleticism because we are hardly ever the most athletic team on the floor and we are never the biggest and not usually the fastest,” Helder said. “But they know if they play the right way, play discipline, play team-first unselfish ball and play hard they know they have a chance to beat anybody even if the team is bigger and more athletic.”
A year after going 18-5 and winning their Alabama Christian Sports Conference regular-season and tournament titles, the Kings are in pursuit of both titles again this year as well as an invitational to the national tournament for home school teams in Springfield, Missouri, an event they didn’t get to go to last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That is the biggest goal – the state title,” Perry said. “Hopefully we can still get to go to nationals afterwards, but right now we are focused is getting that repeat.”
The Kings are 3-0 in conference games, but have five league games left, starting Friday at home against the Tuscaloosa Home Educators.
“We talk about championships,” Helder said. “We want to be a champion in every tournament we are in.”