LYNN — The English boys basketball team has shown a lot of growth on the court over the course of the past two seasons, and it’s led to the Bulldogs earning a chance to play for the Division 1 state title this weekend. But one of the less talked about reasons for English’s growth is actually the growth on the bench, specifically with the group of assistant coaches.
If you talk to English head coach Antonio Anderson, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that he both admires and trusts his assistant coaches, and for good reason. Corey Bingham, Dina Wavezwa, Ryan Woumn and Alvin Abreu all bring talent, knowledge and experience to the table.
“I just wanted guys who loved basketball and who knew the game,” Anderson said about what he was looking for in a coaching staff once he got the English job in 2017. “These guys have all played the game at a very high level, and I was fortunate enough to catch them at a time when they were all home and they were available. I called Corey first, Corey’s my guy. We’ve known each other for years, played in high school together, all of that. These are all guys who we knew and who we’ve played with in different men’s leagues and things like that, and I knew they’d all be a good fit.”
The pedigree of the coaching staff is as good as any you’ll find. All four assistant coaches played ball in high school, and three of the four went on to play at Division I colleges (Bingham at Toledo, Woumn at East Tennessee State and Abreu at the University of New Hampshire). All of them have played in big games, and all of them bring a different aspect of knowledge and leadership to the bench.
“These guys just straight know the game,” said Anderson, who himself played Division I basketball at Memphis. “We all watch film together and we all see different things, and we’re always going back and forth. I tell people all the time, I wouldn’t be anything without these guys.”
“Not many people can say they’ve coached with a staff like this,” said Woumn. “We’ve all played at a high level, and now being able to bounce ideas off each other over the past couple years has helped us all grow as coaches.”
“Because we’ve been there before, we’re able to help these guys and tell them about our experiences in big games,” said Wavezwa. “We can help them with all the different aspects of being a student-athlete, and it’s easier for them to listen to us because we’ve been in that same spot.”
Perhaps most importantly, the assistants point out that Anderson lets them be free to speak up and contribute whenever they can.
“I think there’s probably a lot of coaches who wouldn’t allow their staff to be as vocal as we are, and that’s the great thing that (Anderson) does,” said Abreu. “He lets us speak our minds and give suggestions and feel like we’re really a part of what we’ve been building.”
As the Division 1 state championship game draws closer, the assistants have been hard at work breaking down film and running through practices. As young guys who still have plenty of pep in their step, all of the coaches get fully invested in practices — even getting involved in the drills.
“I think the fact that we can actually get out on the court and show them things is a big deal,” Abreu said. “We’re young enough to get out there and challenge them on the court, and now we’ve just got to learn how to teach the things we know. I think we’ve been doing a really good job of that as a staff.”
“Sometimes, we just want to play them to show them that we’ve still got it and prove a point,” Wavezwa said jokingly. “But it’s also about building a culture of hard work, and that’s something we’ve been doing over the past couple of years.”
While this state title game is obviously a big deal for all of the coaches, it’s especially significant for the two English alums on staff in Woumn and Wavezwa. Woumn was on the 2009 team that lost the state final to St. John’s Prep, the last time the Bulldogs were in the championship game.
“I love it,” Wavezwa said about his alma mater’s tournament run this year. “To see where we’ve come in just a couple of years is really great and it speaks to our players and coaches and the work we’ve all put in.”
“For me personally, I want this one bad,” said Woumn, who is a 1,000-point scorer for English. “It means a lot after our run got cut short. For us to be here now, I want them to win it, bottom line.”
According to Bingham, if there’s any team that can bring English its first state title since 1939, it’s this one.
“If there’s any team that can make history, it’s this one,” Bingham said.
English will take on Putnam for the Division 1 state championship Saturday night (6:45) at Holy Cross in Worcester.