Mathews leads ‘Cats to strong season

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

FRONT ROYAL — In the basketball offseason, Warren County boys basketball coach Vernon Mathews sat down with his assistant coaches Logan Hibbs, Paul Elliot and Andrew Nicholson. Mathews and his staff talked about the upcoming season and whether or not they wanted to continue to use “the system” as their offense.

After talking it over as a staff, they decided to go a more traditional style of offense, rather than the one best known for sending in five players at a time and taking lots of 3-point shots.

“There was a lot of discussion back and forth with me and the staff on what we were going to do this year,” Mathews said. “They convinced me to go back to more of a normal system this year based on personnel.”

The decision paid off for Mathews and his staff and team, as the Wildcats went from winning seven games to 18.

The successful season the Wildcats had helped Mathews earn The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2013-14 Boys Basketball Coach of the Year award.

Mathews said he puts a lot of trust in his staff, and they are important part of all the decisions that are made.

“They encourage me, too. They encourage the kids. It’s a great staff,” Mathews said. “They’re very important to me. During the games, before the games, they fill a lot of roles.”

Mathews said before the season started he knew the team had a chance to do good things, but once the season started they were able to do even more than he had imagined.

The Wildcats were boosted by the transfer of Casey Stewart from Skyline, but Mathews said the rest of the team just worked hard and improved in the offseason.

“They continued to get better,” Mathews said of his players. “Jontae [Rollins] and Blake [Steele] from their sophomore year to their senior year, there was an incredible difference in their talent level, and I just attribute that to how hard they worked to get better. It’s great when you see kids put in a lot of hard work and they try hard every day in practice. To see them have success is a great feeling as a coach.”

The Wildcats split the first two games of the season, but then won nine straight games until a loss to Bull Run District champion William Monroe.

They followed that up with a loss to Clarke County, but then won eight of their next nine games.

Steele said Mathews knew how to push the players hard in practice in just the right way, and made them want to play for him.

“He wants what’s best for us,” Steele said. “He pushes us in practice, and I always remember him saying I’m not doing this for you. You guys have the potential to do something big, but I can’t do it for you. You’re going to have to do it. A lot of it was him pushing us seniors, you know the leaders on the court, which made everybody else follow in behind — which was awesome.”

Mathews, who is retired from the Army, began coaching at Clarke County as an assistant under Brent Emmart in basketball, and also helped coach football there as well. He said Emmart is still one of the coaches he looks up to and learns a lot from. Mathews said when he took the job at Warren County, he also got help from former Central coach Jerry Walters and former Strasburg coach Millson French.

Mathews said his love of sports were part of the reason he always wanted to be a coach.

“When I look back on my childhood, me and my brother both just loved athletics. I looked back on the impact that my coaches made on my life, and how big sports was in my life I just wanted to give back,” Mathews said. “I love sports and I love working with kids. I just wanted to try and make a positive impact on their lives.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd