By Luke Robinson
I could pick a thousand different storylines to discuss from Alabama high school state finals a few months ago. The Hoover win to end Mountain Brook’s reign of terror. The talented bevy of young stars sure to return in future final fours. The updated, edgier look provided by the Knight-Eady Group.
All of the aforementioned topics deserve their own articles, but why not choose Wenonah girls’ head coach Emanuel Bell? The dapper, affable, completely approachable Wenonah alum won his second straight title last February and will bring back practically his entire squad for a three-peat chance. “It felt good to reach the pinnacle like that again. It felt real good,” Bell told me over the phone. “Next year we pretty much have the same team, just more mature.”
“Uh oh,” said everyone else in unison. Wenonah’s coming back with a more mature team is like Jaws swimming back to Amity Island after an extra season of bite camp. Of course a state championship should feel good to Bell, right? However, for Bell, it isn’t just about the rings he wins for his school. The jovial coach has a deep passion for girls’ basketball in general. He isn’t just winning titles for himself or Wenonah; he’s winning popularity for women’s basketball all over the state.
Bell certainly isn’t doing that alone, mind you, but he has been a catalyst toward making girls’ hoops more mainstream. “The sport has come a long way,” Bell said, “with the summer programs and year-round ball. [The experience] has all helped a lot and I remember how hard it was trying to get that started.”
Speaking of getting started, I asked Bell if he remembered his first-ever win as a head high school coach. “Yeah…yeah, I do. It was at Central Tuscaloosa. They had won the state title the year before. We won that game at the free throw line,” he said. “I was in a zone, man. Central had a girl who was the truth, now, but I was coaching my heart out!” I could hear him smiling through the phone as he told the story. That game was around 475 wins ago, yet Bell recalled it without a pause.
Since then, Bell has not only been dominant in this state, but he has taken his act on the road. Wenonah spent some time last year whipping up on nationally ranked competitors in a New Jersey tournament. Bell hopes the Dragons will be packing their bags again in the future as cross-country contests provide invaluable experience and undoubtedly contribute to Wenonah’s winning ways.
Meanwhile, I asked Coach Bell which was the prouder moment: Hoisting his second straight state championship trophy or being voted “Best Dressed Coach” by the responders to AL.com’s poll. “Well, I actually came in second overall (to JoVanka Ward of Homewood), but I did win if it is only men!” he said. Bell then hesitated a moment and again the grin was present even though I couldn’t see it. The silence told me while he appreciated being recognized for his debonair ways, the state title was the obvious crown jewel of the two choices. After a moment or two, he added, “You know…in my mind, I know I looked good, though.”
You can call it cocky. I will call it cool confidence. It’s the same trait with which his team beats you. They are better than you and all the scoreboard does is reflect the physical evidence. With players like Kaitlyn Rodgers leading the 2015–2016 charge for the Dragons, the only question for Bell may be deciding what kind of tie to wear at the trophy presentation.