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June 13, 2014

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Welborn’s hire at West Point creates sibling rivalry with Cold Springs sister

CULLMAN — Go ahead and toss county bragging rights out the window.

When West Point and Cold Springs meet on the hardwood this winter, it’ll be all about sibling pride.

With the hire of John Welborn as head coach, the Lady Warriors’ new man in charge will annually face off against his well-known sister, Tammy West, the longtime leader of the Lady Eagles.

Welborn, who’s replacing Regina Jones after 21 years on the bench, has all the respect in the world for West and will continue to root for Cold Springs when the two teams aren’t on the same floor.

And once they are?

Don’t expect Welborn to hold anything back on his big sis.

“She tries to help me out. I try to help her out,” he said. “But when we play, I’m all about winning. I’m too much of a competitor.”

Welborn enters his first varsity job equipped with a rich coaching bloodline.

His dad, Danny, is in the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame due to a brilliant career atop Good Hope’s boys basketball and golf programs. And then there’s West, who’s claimed three Class 2A state titles in two-plus decades at Cold Springs.

“They’ve had so much success,” Welborn said. “It’s going to be hard to win as much as they did, but it’s just something I’m going to have to try to do.”

Welborn was on West’s bench as an assistant for three seasons starting in 1998-99, the first year Cold Springs won it all. During the brief stint, he saw firsthand what it takes to be a champion and gleaned X’s and O’s from his superstar sibling that he still employs to this day.

“I try to use a lot of the same philosophies she does,” Welborn said. “It’s obviously worked for her.”

For West, she has no doubt her little brother will do a “great job” but acknowledged she wouldn’t mind having him back on the bench for next season and beyond — especially when it’s time to play each other.

“I wish he was still here with me,” West said. “He is a really good coach. I’m thinking there won’t be many chances for me to stick it to him when we play. But if I get the chance, I won’t let up on him one bit (laughs).

With the Joe Shults Award and an All-State first-team selection in tow, Welborn graduated from Good Hope in 1993. He played two years at Wallace State and completed his degree at Athens State shortly thereafter.

Cold Springs came calling first and then West Point, where Welborn began as a middle school football coach. Two years later, he took over the school’s boys basketball program.

In 11 seasons, Welborn’s Warriors won five county championships and were tournament runner-up four times.

“I think his success has been evident in middle school,” West Point principal Heith Yearwood said. “His desire and passion are going to be a big plus for us. He’s wanting to build a program from top to bottom, all the way down from youth to middle school, JV and high school.”

One attribute that impressed Yearwood was Welborn’s experience. His gene pool didn’t hurt matters, either.

“If you know anything about the West family, they are supportive of each other at all times,” the administrator said. “They’re at each other’s games, so he’s probably watched more girls basketball than any of us around.”

That family’s patriarch, Danny, said he and his wife, Sheila, will sit midcourt at all West Point-Cold Springs games with a “slight lean” toward the Lady Eagles’ side.

“We’ve had several discussions about it,” he said. “Since Bailey (West) plays for Cold Springs, we’re going to root for the granddaughter. We wish them both all the success in the world, though. We’ll definitely be rooting for both of them if they aren’t playing each other.”

Added West: “Bailey told me she didn’t know if she should shake his hand or hug his neck before the games. It’s going to be a good time for everybody when we meet in December.”

According to Danny, the siblings didn’t fight very often as children. However, a healthy rivalry in terms of basketball and favoritism was no doubt rampant for the pair as they advanced through respective career paths.

“As long as I’ve got a kid on my team, they’ll root for me,” West said jokingly of her parents. “Even if I didn’t, I’m the favorite. Well, not really. I was my dad’s fishing buddy until John was old enough to go with them. After that, that was over with. So, I’m not sure if I’m the favorite or not. But we definitely have a competitive streak in us.”

After paying his dues at the middle school level, Welborn admitted “it’s time for a change.” He won’t be changing his philosophy, though, sticking with the fast-paced, long-range — there’ll be plenty of pressing, too — brand of basketball that resulted in county titles each of the last four years.  

Welborn isn’t sure if the system will translate to the varsity stage. He’ll find out with a cast of returners that includes senior leader Mallory Walker, Tess Hembree and Jeri Beasley, among others.

“It’s a process. It’s going to take me a little bit,” Welborn said. “But the girls I’ve got are buying into it and working hard. They’re learning and getting better.”

West said she gave Welborn a little bit of advice after he accepted his coaching post with West Point. She preached to him patience and hard work — aspects she used to turn Cold Springs into a perennial playoff powerhouse.

“I hope they are really patient with John,” she said. “He will work extremely hard to build that program up. It’s not going to happen overnight, but when it does, he’s going to do a really great job for them.”

% Rob Ketcham and Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, exts. 138 or 136.

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