“To me and the boys, our simple mindset is, don’t rank us. We don’t need to be ranked to win state,” Graves said. “If you don’t want to rank us now, don’t rank us later when we’re beating people. That’s exactly how we feel about it. They’re not happy about it, they feel like it’s disrespectful to the tradition of this program.”
The message is clear. Graves wants the team’s performance on the court to do all the talking.
“Just let us come play,” he said, “that’s all we need to prove.”
This season, the Wildcats are tackling a tough non-district schedule that will set the team up for a long postseason run.
“The schedule that we have now is tough,” Graves noted. “No disrespect to the past, it’s just with the teams they had, it should have been a little bit tougher. The Athens Tournament? There’s two 1As in the tournament, us and LaPoynor. So my kids have to understand that if we want to be where we’re at, we have to overcome adversity, we have to overcome the fact that we’re going to be the small school. We need to be comfortable ‘being uncomfortable.’”
“We have seven ‘TABC-ranked’ teams from 1A to 4A,” Graves added. “I don’t think anybody in our district has that, I don’t think anybody in the district would want to invite that.”
Throughout the season, the Wildcats will be working toward fine-tuning their game, with the focus on becoming a defensively-tough team.
“We’re going to become the best defensive team in the state in 1A,” Graves claimed. “I promise you.”
The Wildcats have a chance to do so, with the iron-sharpening-iron way of scheduling games. Graves wants to change the culture of Waelder basketball. The past few seasons, the boys’ team has reached the regional tournament, but have failed to advance from it. But this team is different than the ones of years past.
“Just sit back and watch,” Graves said, “this is not the Waelder of old in terms of the things that you heard in the past on how the kids don’t care and they are undisciplined. These kids work hard, but that’s because we have not moved, we have not budged and they understand that’s best for them.”
“We have a great staff and great young kids that are working,” he added. “They want to prove people wrong. I’m happy, man, we’re all happy, we’re excited. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be exciting.”
There’s no lack of bulletin board material for this year’s Waelder Wildcats. No preseason state rankings, picked to go third in district, recovering from last year’s three-game sweep from their rival Moulton Bobkats, a new coach ready to take over a team with a history of success — there are plenty points of motivation for the 2019-20 Wildcats.