New coach leads Woodland Hills boys into challenging Section 2
As a Churchill resident who spent more than a decade assisting George Novak in coaching the school's football team, new Woodland Hills boys basketball coach Odell Miller is no stranger to Wolverines athletics.
But as preseason practice began, he was a stranger to many of his new players.
Miller, most recently the coach at Wilkinsburg, was not hired until mid-September. Adding to the lack of a full offseason to get acquainted with his team was that many of its players also play football and were occupied by the Wolverines' run to Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game Nov. 23.
“So you can imagine with the late start and with the football season, the amount of time that I've had so far has been minimal,” Miller said.
“But regardless of that, we are very optimistic about the season. I know the section is a brutal section, but I think we'll be competitive.”
Woodland Hills is the defending Section 2-AAAA champion. But gone from that 17-6 team are all of the starting five, as well as coach Mike Decker, who took a job coaching and teaching in Ohio.
Miller guided Wilkinsburg to the 2008 WPIAL Class A championship game as part of his three years as head coach there. He also was an assistant for a few years for some good Shady Side Academy teams under Terrance Parham, who now is assisting Miller at Woodland Hills.
“(Miller) knows what it takes to be successful and what it takes for a successful program,” said Novak, Woodland Hills' athletic director. “He has great experience basketball-wise. And we try to teach our kids there's more than just sports: We want to make better citizens, and I know he does it the right way and is a great role model for these young kids.”
Miller had only roughly half his team available for the start of preseason practices while the football season waged on. The Wolverines' most experienced players entering the season are 6-foot-4 senior swingman Tom Greene and 5-11 senior guard Ryan Thomas. Another senior who will play a prominent role is forward Juwan Turner.
Woodland Hills ranked third in WPIAL Class AAAA in scoring last season. Even without Shakim Alonzo, Miller intends to have the Wolverines run a high-tempo attack again this season.
“Woodland Hills is basically known as a football power,” Miller said. “Hopefully with a lot of hard work, we can have a school known for football and basketball.”
Wolverines girls aim high
Delrika Jones-Carey and Desiree Garland are both within striking distance of 1,000 career points this season.
They also intend on continuing to bat 1.000 when it comes to leading Woodland Hills into the playoffs.
Jones-Carey, a 5-10 guard/forward, and Garland, a 5-9 guard, joined the Wolverines as freshmen with the team coming off a last-place finish in Section 2-AAAA. Three consecutive playoff seasons have followed, and coach Korie Morton-Rozier has all but two of the significant contributors from last season's second-place team back.
“I have really high hopes for this year,” Morton-Rozier said. “I have four or five seniors this year that I'm counting on — not only the two big scorers — but all of them for senior leadership.”
Of the Wolverines' style, Morton-Rozier said, “We're definitely going to run. We're super athletic.”
And deep. Senior guard Rochelle Price-Wheeler is back coming off a knee injury. Junior guard Sarah Blotzer-Miller and senior guard/forward Adrienne Lawson also figure to start, with junior forward Aleaha Jackson one of the top options off the bench.
“We're really excited about the year, and we're ready to get this going,” Morton-Rozier said. “We definitely think we'll compete in the section and see what happens from there.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.