“It changes from year to year,” Ware said. “You’ve just got to stay fired up and do the best with what you have to work with.”
He did in 2012-13, installing an array of defenses to help a team short on perimeter shooters and experience to get back to the Northeast Regional. For that, he was named The Star’s Calhoun County Class 4A-6A boys coach of the year.
The Bulldogs returned just two players with significant playing experience and won 17 games, enough to survive a sub-regional showdown with Jacksonville and reach the regional. There, Anniston lost to eventual 4A state champion Madison County.
Ware didn’t do it by just rolling a ball out to long, quick athletes.
“It was like just starting over,” he said.
Ware had a team he thought would return to the state semifinals in Birmingham in 2011-12, but Alexandria eliminated the Bulldogs in the area tournament. That was the abrupt end for top seniors like point guard Lasheddrick Edmondson, who led Anniston to a state-runner-up finish against Trevor Lacey-led Butler in 2011.
The team coming back for this past season featured two players who saw significant playing time, Monquavis Frazier and Mauriceco Massey.
Not only was Anniston short on playing experience, but the Bulldogs were short on 3-point shooting threats. It meant that Anniston needed transition offense from its defense, and so Ware threw more variety at Anniston’s opponents.
In 2011-12, Ware ran a lot of 1-3-1 zone and full-court 2-2-1. This past season, Ware installed several zone looks — 2-3, 1-2-2, 2-2-1 and 3-2. Depending on matchups, he also tried a box-and-one defense.
Perhaps the most dramatic example came in the sub-regional, when Anniston used a 3-2 zone to keep hands in the faces of Jacksonville shooters like Des Curry.
All season long, Ware wanted missed shots and rebounds or turnovers, leading to fast-break points.
“That was the key,” Ware said.
It was his way of masking Anniston’s inexperience and shooting weaknesses, which matter more in a half-court offense against a fully set defense.
Not only did it work to get Anniston to the third layer of the postseason, but the Bulldogs developed as the season wore on. They won 11 of their last 14 games, with the three losses coming against 6A Gadsden City, 4A semifinalist Handley and 4A state champion Madison County.
There’s a reason why Ware has won two state championships, taken five teams to Birmingham (three in a row from 2009-11) and won 12 area titles in 16 years on the job at Anniston. It’s not just his athletes.
Now, he must rethink things for next year, minus three seniors, including Massey.
“I always tell kids about getting complacent,” Ware said. “You’ve got to always stay on top.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.