BOUNCE: Hiring Byron Pickens was the steal of the century four years ago

Wayne coach Byron Pickens talks to his team during January 6’s game at North Side.

On June 24, 2019, Byron Pickens coached his first game as the Wayne head coach. It was just a Monday night league game at Snider High School. But it was the beginning of what has become one of the area’s best stories in recent years.

That story culminated on Friday night when Wayne beat Concordia in front of a crowd that was as loud and solid as the old SAC Tournament games that used to take place on the Generals home court. The win gave Wayne their first outright SAC title since 1976. And the fanbase, including a great student section, made that moment even more special.

And it all comes back to the genius hiring of Pickens as the head coach. When Wayne needed a new man leading the program that had seen some success under Aaron Rehrer, they didn’t stay in house and they didn’t nab a former head coach from elsewhere, which seems to happen a lot. Instead they went to an assistant from another SAC school and that is something you don’t see much.

But what those in the know understood then was that Pickens was a no brainer from the pool of options. See, at Northrop, he was a stabilizing force on the bench. Pickens helped that program, players and coaching staff, find a tremendous balance between composure and aggression. When those Northrop teams had to be in attack mode, they did it as good as anyone else. When they needed to slow it down and find a different pace, they did it as good as anyone else. And no disrespect to anyone else on that Bruin bench, but if you watched their games, you could see how important that Pickens was to everything they had going on in games.

You can also see a pretty significant correlation in how Northrop played and Wayne plays.

“I think it is just like myself, it has a lot of opportunity for growth,” Pickens said to Outside the Huddle of Wayne’s basketball program when he took the job in 2019. “Expectations are all what you make them I think. We had goals there at Northrop which were to win Sectionals and win conference; when you know that you are prepared for the goal, it is not that hard.”

Wayne coacht Byron Pickens talks to an official during January 6’s game at North Side.

Northrop got at people, they won a conference title and they also won a Sectional crown in 2019 during Pickens’ final season of four at the school. And four years after that, he has Wayne at the top of the city.

They climbed there by staying the course, but not getting discouraged and by not having players flee looking for greener pastures. With a cupboard that wasn’t completely bare that first year, Pickens won 8 games, a year later he won 7 and last season, with a young core, Wayne won just four games and just once in the SAC, an overtime thriller over two-win Carroll. The wins down ticked, but Pickens was solid and consistent with his vision and his effort. Players buy in to a system like that.

It has been an impressive feat and like with Northrop, it wasn’t a one man show. But the man at the top, Pickens, deserves heaps of credit for how he made Wayne so successful.

He built a quality staff that has stayed by his side. They have grown, worked and learned with him and that consistency is something that really does mean a lot on the high school level. The players at Wayne know they are showing up to see Pickens but to also see Greg Patterson, Anthony Brewer and Josh Forbes. They also have seen the addition during Pickens’ tenure of young coaches in Timon Kinnie and Mike Barnfield that have been in their shows recently. I can’t stress enough how important a deep, knowledgeable and consistent coaching staff means to a high school program; Pickens built that at Wayne.

And it has made guys want to compete. Wayne doesn’t back down and they are that way from top of the program to the bottom, from senior Monte Smith to sophomore Chase Barnes. It’s consistent like their coach.

Pickens is best composed coach in the area that can also be ultra energetic and aggressive. It is an ideology that you can see through his players and his assistants. He took talent and knowledge and helped mold them into his own likeness. That is not easy to do and the fact that Pickens did it is why the Wayne Generals are SAC champions.

With the mode that Wayne is in right now, chances are they aren’t done this season. With what they have coming back in their lineup, chances are next season could be no different. It was a great vision to hire Pickens in 2019 and that is clearer by the day.

These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

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