By Jonathan Deal
Walking into halftime with a double-digit lead at the 2A state championship game last month, Tanner coach Chris Whitt was worried.
“I talked to the guys at halftime and reminded them we were in that same position in that other locker room two years ago — we were down 10 or 12 points at the half,” Whitt said. “I said, ‘They can flip a switch at anytime like we did two years ago and it can turn around.’”
Whitt’s halftime talk worked as Tanner put any hopes of a LaFayette comeback to bed early in the second half, and the Rattlers won their second state title in three years.
Whitt has been selected as the 2013 Limestone County Coach of the Year for leading the Tanner to another state championship this season. After being denied a state title during his first 17 years as Tanner’s head coach, Whitt has made it two out three since 2011.
“I was coaching for 17 years and I still hadn’t gotten one yet,” he said. “We had several chances, and its seems like when our girls and boys won that one in 2011, it just made them believe. Before, it seemed like there was a wall there, and we really didn’t know if we could do it or not. Since that 2011 win, there has been a lot more confidence.”
That confidence was on display this season in Tanner’s 28 wins against some top-notch competition. The Rattlers’ only losses were against Austin, James Clemens, Cullman and a rematch with the 3A state champions, Madison Academy, a team Tanner beat earlier in the season. Against Class 3A-6A playoff teams, Tanner went 14-3.
“They knew they had to continue to play every game,” Whitt said. “We didn’t blow a lot of people out like we did last year. We had some 20 or 30 points wins, but I thought we had better quality opponents we were playing this year. We tried to beef our schedule up and I think that made the difference.”
His team’s latest title run was completely different from the 2011 version in which All-State guard Matt Hines averaged more than 20 points per game. This year’s state title was much more balanced.
Tanner’s leading scorer, Greg Maclin, averaged just over 12 points per game and was the only player named to the All-State team, but was not named the MVP of the region or state tournament.
“It’s one of the most balanced teams I’ve had for sure, to have that many guys around the double-figure mark,” Whitt said. “I could have had two or three guys as the MVP candidate. Some of these guys could have gone to other schools and averaged 25 points per game.”
Without a go-to scorer, Whitt took a collection of talented players and molded them into a cohesive unit that gelled at the right time. With his 500th victory in sight and two state titles in the last three years, Chris Whitt may not be done winning at Tanner just yet.