Coaching change at Hampton High

By Jeff Birchfield

   A new era in Hampton Bulldog basketball will begin next season keeping strong ties to the school's past. Mark McClain, a 1995 graduate of Hampton, will take over as the new head coach of the Hampton basketball team with the resignation of Bud Hazelwood earlier in the week.
   "I've dreamed about this job for a long time," said McClain. "I came back here after I went to Tusculum. I think you take a little more pride in getting to coach at your alma-mater."
   Hazelwood, who went 13-38 in two seasons as the Bulldog, resigned on Monday. This past season Hampton more than doubled the previous season win total this year behind the strong play of center Adam Miller.
   Hazelwood followed the legendary Jerry White, who won over 600 games in 30-plus seasons. An assistant under White, Hazelwood was the logical choice to take over the program after White's retirement in 2002.
   "I was an assistant under Jerry for 12 years," said Hazelwood. "I was happier and more comfortable working with him than I was being the head coach."
   Like Hazelwood coaching under White, McClain served as a Hampton assistant under Hazelwood the past couple of seasons.
   "I played for coach Hazelwood and coached under him and coach White," said McClain. "I was kind of shocked when he announced he wasn't coming back. He is a good man and he deserves a lot of respect.
   "I know there will definitely be a lot more pressure being the head coach. You've got to expect it. You've got the varsity, the JV and the freshmen teams all under your watch. There is a lot more responsibility."
   Despite a final record of 9-18 this past season, the Bulldogs were competitive in most contests, particularly games inside the Watauga Conference.
   "We lost seven or eight games by five points or less," said Hazelwood. "Everybody in the league played well at different times. We peaked in mid-January. That was a good stretch beating Elizabethton, Central and Volunteer. I don't know how you can control it, but we probably peaked a little too early."
   The 'Dogs' season was highlighted by making it to the finals of the Carter County Christmas Tournament they hosted and the aforementioned beating the top three-ranked teams in the league earlier this year.
   "That was the turning point in our season," said Hazelwood of the Christmas tournament. "We picked up a lot of confidence with those wins. I think we improved and made good strides this past season. There's a good chance Hampton will drop back to single-A ball. I feel the program is on the way back up. Hampton should be good the next few seasons."
   Taking over as head coach will be only one major change for the 27 year-old McClain this fall. He and wife Melissa are expecting their first child in September. As for basketball, the new head coach echoed many of the same sentiments expressed by Hazelwood.
   "We lost a lot of heartbreakers this past season," said McClain. "We've got a lot of talent coming back. We've got a great freshman class and we have older players that have been playing against some very good triple-A and double-A teams."
   McClain also receives inspiration seeing rival Unaka bring home the gold ball, signifying the 2004 Tennessee State Championship. Hampton won the title 44 years earlier under Buck Van Huss, later known for becoming the winningest basketball coach in the state.
   "I've got a lot of respect for Donald Ensor, Johnny Ensor and Richard Thomas for all they have done," said McClain about the Unaka coaching staff. "It showed everyone in Carter County that it's possible if you work hard and do things the right way. They work as hard as any team in the county and showed everyone the path of how to do it."
   For Hazelwood, who plans to take a hiatus from coaching, this summer will offer changes mainly working around the house and spending time with his family. There will be no summer basketball camps to attend and no working on practice schedules.
   "I'm going to teach and rest up," said Hazelwood. "I'm just going to be a teacher and enjoy my time at home. I don't know how I will react. It's going to be different. I've been doing this (coaching) the last 20-some years."
   Meanwhile, McClain is ready to blow the whistle on the first practice for the boys ready to don the blue and white.
   "Sometimes the most difficult thing is teaching the kids how to win," said McClain. "I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think the kids are ready to do the work to become a winning team.
   "There's going to be some changes. Anyone new coming in is going to try to implement their own system, but there will be things familiar. When you watch us, you will know we are playing Hampton-style basketball."