Jan Azar could walk away from coaching today and she’d still be the most successful girls high school basketball coach in state history. As head coach at Wesleyan – her first and only head coaching gig – she’s led the Lady Wolves to 10 state titles in the last 12 seasons and they’re currently six-time defending champions, which ties a state record. Azar has more than 400 wins and was inducted into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. Those accomplishments rarely come for any coach, and she’s already achieved them as she hits the prime of her career.
Fortunately for Wesleyan, Azar isn’t walking away any time soon.
But how does a coach sustain such a level of success? How does she keep her kids focused and from feeling like a state title automatically comes with playing for Wesleyan? Why has player turnover had no affect on the Lady Wolves’ historic title run?
“(Winning titles) is a good place to be and a hard place to be,” Azar said. “(Every year) they want to accomplish what everyone did before them. Some people might think winning state is automatic, but it takes hard work to accomplish. Nothing’s automatic. I’m always reminding my coaches and players to stay on their toes and we’re always finding different ways to progress. The key is to not become satisfied and to keep challenging each other.
“We have to remember what made the foundation and expect to continue to do those things. We don’t want our players to feel pressured, but they understand they’re in a special place.”
One reason Azar said Wesleyan is a special place is because it’s a K-12 school. That means the students can begin learning the same system they’ll play in from grades 9-12 at an early age. When Azar first arrived at Wesleyan in 2001, she had never been a head coach. She had assistant coaching experience though, and was a member of the Mount De Sales Academy staff when it won the 1994 GISA girls basketball title. Having learned the ropes from other coaches, she set to install her system the first two seasons she was there.
Needless to say, that system has worked.
“My goal has been to teach young players how to play hard and apply lessons learned to their lives,” Azar said.
The Lady Wolves are gunning for a state-record seventh consecutive championship. So far, they’re 7-1 and they’ll play at Brookwood on Dec. 19. If they’re going to win another title, they’ll have to do so despite the loss of five seniors who went on to play at D-I schools on scholarship, including AJC Class AA player of the year Katie Frerking. Nikki McDonald, a junior, has emerged as the team’s leading scorer with 14.6 points a game and Mikayla Coombs is averaging 11.1 points. Coombs is one of seven freshman on the team.
“The freshman have all grown up together and know the system – they know Wesleyan basketball,” Azar said. “They’ve stepped right in. It’s nice when you graduate a talented class and have new ones that can come right in. They’re not starting from scratch.”
Numerous Class AA teams across the state will participate in holiday tournaments. The Lady Wolves will play three games in the Carolina Invitational tournament, which begins Dec. 27 at Bishop England High School (Charleston, S.C.) … Meanwhile on the boys’ side, defending state champions Greater Atlanta Christian will play in the Southeast Basketball Academy’s Atlanta Hoop Festival on Dec. 21 at Pope High School in Marietta. GAC will lay Class A power North Cobb Christian at 8:30 p.m.
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