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Preparing for the KHSAA Boys’ Sweet 16 Basketball Tournament, John Hardin coach Mark Wells had a number of interview requests. With so much hype, Wells spoke sparingly with precision and grace.
Wells chose his words carefully, putting as much though into each answer. He rarely blurted out the first thought, but cautiously tip toed to give both an insightful and politically correct answer.
Wells’ approach on the basketball court is the same. Just as carefully as he chooses his answers, Wells is as meticulous when preparing for every opponent, no matter if it’s an early December game or a state tournament game like the one the Bulldogs (28-3) play at 1:30 p.m. today against Fleming County (28-6) at Rupp Arena.
“Honestly, I don’t know that he sleeps much,” John Hardin junior guard Keon Williams said. “It always impresses me the information they give us on every opponent. They go over how we’re going to guard certain players and what we’re trying to take away. We always work on our execution every day because he stresses that.”
Make no mistake, Wells is the mastermind that runs the John Hardin basketball program. He has built quite a resume in his five-year tenure, compiling a 107-37 record – a staggering winning percentage of 74.3 percent.
Wells has guided the Bulldogs to four 5th Region Tournament appearances, winning the last two, and the Bulldogs have won two 17th District Tournament championships. He joined Elizabethtown’s James Haire, Campbellsville’s Tim Davis and Adair County’s Mark Fudge as current region coaches with two region titles. Only North Hardin’s Ron Bevars has 12 to his credit.
The Indiana native, who spent seven years as a John Hardin assistant under Artie Braden before taking over the reigns when Braden left for Nelson County, has put his stamp on the program, blending ideas from his playing days and what he picked up as a coach.
“I learned a lot from Coach Braden,” Wells said. “He let me have a lot of input on things and he trusted me as an assistant coach. It’s really a mixture of everything. I’ve carried over some things. I’ve added things that I did or things you see. It might be something you think will work for your own team.”
While Wells is painstakingly particular with every detail on game days, he has used the same line of attack in building his coaching staff, surrounding himself with basketball minds in Jared McCurry and Marcus Hyche.
McCurry, a 1998 Elizabethtown graduate, starred for the Panthers before enjoying a solid career at Bellarmine University. He played semi-pro basketball in Louisville and locally after graduating from Bellarmine in 2002, and then played in Switzerland for four years.
Hyche, a 1999 North Hardin graduate, helped the Trojans to region championships in 1998 and ’99, the former over McCurry’s Panthers, which he reminds him of on occasion.
“I think we’re all the similar age and we all relate to kids well,” Wells said. “I think we have the same approach. We want to be aggressive and play faster. We differ on some things, but for the most part, we have the same ideas on how we want to do things. We’re all on the same page.”
While Wells is the man who oversees the program, he constantly asks his assistants for their input on how the Bulldogs should attack certain teams.
“We have a lot of trust in our three-man staff,” McCurry said. “Sometimes you tell a head coach something, and he’ll say OK but nothing happens. With him, he trusts our ideas, and if you suggest something, he’ll run it or will make changes. He has a lot of trust in us and he asks for input.”
That’s something Hyche had to get used to once he joined the staff.
“In the beginning, I didn’t say too much,” Hyche said. “He kept telling me, ‘Marcus, I know you have ideas. I want your input.’ That gave me a lot of confidence as a coach. I’m able to help on game nights. He trusts me and Jared and he listens to us.”
Wells also isn’t afraid to make changes based on his personnel. Although he wants to press and play an up-tempo style, there are subtle changes to the offense or defense. For instance this season, Wells might run more sets to get shots for senior point guard Brandon Price or senior forward Daveon Greene. Defensively, they’ve become primarily a man-to-man team this season.
“We’ve tinkered with some things,” Wells said. “I believe as a staff we’re skilled to teach man-to-man. We haven’t played much zone. We’ll run certain sets for Brandon and Daveon, but we also run some to get Patrick (Anderson), Keon and Elijah (Smith) involved. We’re not afraid to make adjustments.”
Wells resisted getting caught up in the state tournament hype, despite all the outside distractions, interview requests and being labeled on the top teams in the field. He answered questions the way he coaches, directly and efficiently.
“I don’t think there’s a guy that works harder than Coach Wells,” McCurry said. “He was texting me at 2 a.m. to ask if I saw what they were running against a man and a zone. He prepares so well. He loves the game and you can tell.”
“I think it’s his work ethic,” Hyche said. “Sometimes I’ve wondered why we’re going over something in practice, but he wants to be prepared for everything. He knows the game so well. He’s so smart.”
Two region championships in his first five seasons as head coach is proof of that.
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com