H.D. Woodson boys’ basketball Coach Trey Mines surveyed the court one day last week, and the sounds coming from another cohesive practice prompted him to glance up toward the classroom from which his players had only recently emerged.
“We don’t touch a basketball until you do your work for the day,” he said. “There’s no other way around it.”
There are plenty of reasons why H.D. Woodson’s once-floundering boys’ basketball program is again challenging for a D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title one year after falling just short in the league championship game. The Warriors are talented, experienced and hungry to prove this school can be more than a football power.
But there may be no bigger reason for the turnaround than the mandatory study hall Mines instituted last year. Each afternoon once school ends, even on game days, the Warriors meet in Room 203 to do their homework. Every Tuesday and Thursday, student tutors from American University’s SOUL program come in to help as well. Practice times vary greatly — they start as early as 4:30 p.m. or as late as 6 — depending on how efficient the players are with their work.
It’s all part of the plan Mines, who starred at Virginia State (2007-10) and remains the school’s all-time leader in three-point shooting, hatched after being named H.D. Woodson’s interim head coach just before the 2012-13 season began. Though the Warriors won 15 games that year, Mines wondered what could have been if all of the talent at his disposal had been available.
He lost three players for the postseason because of eligibility issues related to academics.
“We’ve definitely had the athletes in the school. It was about getting them eligible first,” he said. “The first thing I saw when I got here was how many kids weren’t eligible to play that could play. We’d get them in there in preseason workouts and you’d be like, ‘Where’d this kid come from?’ Well, he’s never eligible.”
The dividends are starting to show this year. Junior Kavon Montgomery has become a 6-foot-2 do-everything guard for the Warriors after a suspension forced him to miss the entire 2013-14 season. Junior Antoine Walker is an intriguing 6-foot-6 prospect drawing interest from colleges like Duquesne, Austin Peay and UNC Greensboro with his transcript in good shape.
Senior Calvin Tibbs noted players were initially reluctant to embrace Mines’s insistence on attending study hall, but the team’s success and chemistry has convinced them, “if we play together, work hard and do what we’re supposed to do on the court and off, we’ll get there.”
As of Monday, the Warriors (11-4) were one of two DCIAA teams that had not lost a league game this year and they are coming off weekend wins against Eastern and Idea.
“It helps us so we don’t have to worry about needing help,” Walker added.
It also gives them somewhere to go after school. Mines estimated he had only met parents for three of his current players, many of whom hail from the nearby Clay Terrace neighborhood in Northeast Washington.
But to do all this, Mines had to change his own schedule. He works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Pentagon as a civilian IT specialist for the Army before heading over to H.D. Woodson every afternoon. His fiance is the school’s athletic director.
It all seems worth it, though, now that his players’ diligence in the classroom is translating back onto the court.
“It’s like they have a sharper focus. I can do more things than when I first got here,” Mines said. “That first year team was real raw. Just really raw. I couldn’t draw things and we’d go out on the court and enact it. Last year, it got a lot better once the program was in place for a year. And now this year, it’s a lot easier. Now, the expectation is known.
“This is probably going to be the best basketball team Woodson has seen in a long time.”
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