ON SPORTS: Victoria High grad leads Huston-Tillotson to conference title
March 12, 2014 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated March 11, 2014 at 10:12 p.m.
Maurice Callis admits it's no accident that his assistant coaches at Huston-Tillotson University are his brother, James, and Stroman graduate Jonathan Clark.
Callis made a point to recruit his niece Ariel Callis, who was playing at Western Texas College after graduating from high school in Friendswood.
He also took the advice of cousin and Victoria East coach Yulonda Wimbish-North and recruited Danielle Franklin from the Lady Titans team that advanced to the 2012 state tournament.
"I'm surrounding myself with homebodies," Callis said. "To have a winning program, you've got to have winners around you."
Callis' philosophy has paid off this season, as Huston-Tillotson won the school's first Red River Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament title in its 16th year in the league.
The Lady Rams defeated Langston 67-64 in the championship game Saturday at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall and are headed to the NAIA national tournament in Frankfort, Ky.
Huston-Tillotson, which is located in the shadow of the University of Texas at Austin, will take a 15-14 record into Wednesday's first-round game against Tennessee's Freed-Hardeman University (32-1).
"First of all I was getting the girls to believe in themselves," Callis said. "They hadn't won too many games so they didn't really know what it felt like to win."
Callis, 58, played for a winning program at Victoria High before going on to play at Baylor.
He experienced success as a men's and women's coach at Texas A&I in the early 1980s, as a graduate assistant under Scott Drew after leaving Formosa Plastics and returning to get his degree at Baylor, and as an assistant under Wimbish-North when she led the Faith Academy girls to the TAPPS state tournament in 2007.
"Guys are more athletic," Callis said of the difference in coaching males and females. "They can dunk and they think they are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Tim Duncan. Girls will give you their all. They'll give you everything they've got.
"The only thing I hate is dealing with the drama, but it all works out in the end. As long as we communicate, we can work it out."
Callis became an assistant for his goddaughter and Memorial graduate Tenesha Barefield at Huston-Tillotson in 2011.
They helped lead the Lady Rams to their first conference tournament appearance in a decade.
Callis took over as head coach last season when Barefield left to work at Crossover Athletics in Houston.
"This year's team finally saw the light," Callis said. "I had been telling them all year long that they were just as good as the other teams that they had been playing. The distractions they had kind of held them back. Once we got the distractions taken care of, everything else worked out on its own."
Franklin hurt her knee late in the season and was unable to play in the conference tournament.
The Lady Rams advanced to the championship game with wins over fourth-seeded Jarvis Christian and top-seeded Our Lady of the Lake.
They sealed the win over Langston when Ariel Callis made two free throws with 7 seconds remaining in the second half.
"Everybody here is ecstatic," Maurice Callis said. "I'm really glad for the girls as well as Huston-Tillotson University. We're just proud and happy that we could bring back the conference championship to Huston-Tillotson University."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at advosports.com