FORT PAYNE – The Fort Payne Wildcats boys basketball team will have a new head coach this season, but that position won’t be filled with an unfamiliar face.
The Wildcats chose to promote from within this offseason as longtime assistant Michael Banks was handed the reigns to the program after former head coach Glen Hicks announced his retirement.
“[Fort Payne Principal] Mr. [Brian] Jett talked with me and said that he would recommend me for the job. I was thrilled,” Banks said. “It’s been a long time coming. I’m a Fort Payne lifer. I’ve been here my entire 20-year career teaching.”
Banks is entering his 20th year teaching at Fort Payne, who hired him right after he graduated from Jacksonville State back in 2000.
“This is my dream job,” Banks said. “I went to school here, graduated here, I live here and now my kids go to school here. I was always hoping to get the chance to be the head coach here and to finally get it now, I was ecstatic to say the least. It’s been great so far. We’ve had a really good summer.
“I’ve had some other opportunities, but Fort Payne is the place where I want to pour my heart and soul into it. I love it here and all the coaches that have been here before me have been great. Coach Hicks, coach [Danny] Anderson, coach [Anthony] Reid and coach Will Copeland, I feel like that’s quite a legacy and to be sort of grouped together with those coaches and the school board having faith in me means a lot.”
The Wildcats know that they could have a tough time this season trying to compete with area rivals Albertville and Oxford, who swept Fort Payne last season.
Banks said his goal to get his players to be as tough as possible in order to compete with those programs.
“I want us to be the hardest working team around,” Banks said. “I want us to be tough both mentally and physically. Our area is super tough with Oxford and Albertville, and the only way we’ll be able to compete with those programs is if we can be mentally and physically tougher. We can’t control how tall we are or how fast we are, but we can control how tough we are. That’s what we’ve been preaching every day.”
Banks added that the team may try to slow their pace a bit compared to the way the Wildcats ran over the last few years under coach Hicks’ system.
“It’s going to be a little different,” Banks said. “We’re going to push the ball when we can, but we want to try and be a bit more controlled. It’s still going to be an exciting brand of basketball, but we just might not be having any 130-point games.”
Banks said that his Wildcats recorded a 13-3 record over the summer while participating in several team camps and play dates.
“We’ve had a really good summer,” Banks said. “I think we played 16 games over the summer. We went to Dade County for a team camp and had five games there. We had three other play dates and then we had a team camp at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. We only lost three games all summer, so we did really well.”
The 20-year wait was a long one for Banks, but he reiterated that he couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to lead a program he cares so much for.
“I want to thank [Fort Payne City Schools Superintendent] Mr. [Jim] Cunningham for the opportunity,” Banks said. “He has known me since I’ve been here, so I really appreciate him and the board for the opportunity. I want to thank all of my mentors over the years as well, Coach Hicks, coach Anderson and coach Reid for all putting in good words for me and for all of their help over the years getting me to this point, and also coach [Lamar] Hendricks, my JV coach, for all of his help with the program.”
The Wildcats plan to tip off their 2019-20 campaign in November against Gadsden City.