Moving from a small school to a big school would be a transition for anyone – student or teacher. Coach Bobby Mullens, a native of Mount Holly, spent his career at Class A Nevada, leading the Bluejays to a boys’ state championship, before taking the reins at El Dorado this season.
Mullens went into the off-season with 15 non-football players to get prepared for the season. The transition from small school to big school, even included a bit of a language barrier.
“We’ve been working hard. One thing they’re learning is the way I do things, even the terminology. Sometimes I’ll say something and then Rudy will say, ‘this is what he meant.’ So, a lot of terminology, we’re working on that kind of stuff,” Mullens explained.
“When I say flash the middle of the floor, they say duck-in. It’s the same thing. Little things like that, we’re learning. If I tell them something or correct them on something, the way I said it, they may not have heard before.”
Mullens did it all at Nevada with no help from assistant coaches. He has a staff at El Dorado, including holdover Andrew “Rudy” McDaniel, a former Wildcat standout.
“He’s an important part. He’s part of the history and the tradition,” said Mullens. “He’s respected because if he didn’t play with their parents, he knows their parents. Even as head coach, I’m kind of an outsider. They’ll probably call him instead of calling me, not realizing we talk every day about situations.”
On the court, basketball is still basketball and Mullens has a proven record of success. He was busy over the summer building relationships with players, learning their strengths and weaknesses in team camps.
“This summer we put up a lot of shots. I always feel like with X’s and O’s, you can draw up the best play in the world but if you can’t score the basket, you’re still in trouble. So, we’ve put up a lot of shots. In the last two months, we’ve been working on defense - defense, defense, defense,” he said.
“Of course, every day, you try to get better. Our goal is to get better than we were yesterday. When you’re dealing with a group you’ve never seen under the lights, a lot of times they play different in practice than they do in games.”
The Wildcats opened the season with road losses at Morrilton (46-40) and Conway (69-54). League play tips off Dec. 5 at White Hall, which is another adjustment for Mullens.
Small schools can qualify for postseason play via district and regional tournaments. There is no tournament for the 5A South, which seeds into state through regular season results.
“We can’t afford to wait until February to start playing great basketball. We need to start playing decent basketball as soon as possible,” said Mullens.
“That’s a big different mental preparation for me. All the years I’ve been coaching, from day one I would tell my guys, we’re getting ready for late January and February and March. But now, we’ve got to start to get ready for November and December. But it’s still a long season. Just every day, try to get better.”