Coach of the Year: Darryl Free leads Wildcats to third state title

When football season ended, Edgewood coach Darryl Free had a quick turnaround to get the boys basketball team ready for the season ahead. However, after winning a total of 11 games during the previous two seasons, the Wildcats entered 2019 with a new sense of confidence and they rode that to the school’s third boys […]

When football season ended, Edgewood coach Darryl Free had a quick turnaround to get the boys basketball team ready for the season ahead. However, after winning a total of 11 games during the previous two seasons, the Wildcats entered 2019 with a new sense of confidence and they rode that to the school’s third boys basketball state championship.

“We had a unique team this year because I knew I didn’t have to be a disciplinary kind of coach with them,” Free said. “We had players who had been through so much that they wanted to win that badly. They kept on and just believed they could be on top.”

Edgewood finished the season with a 22-5 record and knocked off Autauga 38-21 to win the AISA-AA state title. Despite the lack of success since 2017, the Wildcats knew they would be able to make some noise with the roster they had.

“That team went through so much together,” Free said. “For them to come in and do what they did this year was great to see. Everyone did a great job of feeding off of each other as a team.”

That roster was led by JC Bush and Brady Davidson, two seniors who had been with the varsity team since Free arrived in 2016. Free said they were a part of the group he first met with after accepting the position.

“When coach Free took over this program, he sat us down in the classroom and told us where we were and where we needed to be,” Bush said after winning the state title. “We reached that today. We bought in and worked our tails off to be on top right now.”

Free said he admitted to the team it would not be an easy journey but the players bought in anyway and pushed themselves to learn the style of play the coaching staff wanted to implement. The Wildcats thrived once again thrived off defense this season, allowing just 38.1 points per game.

“You’ll have an off night in offense in every sport and in the regular season you can always say there will be a tomorrow,” Free said. “But when you’re in the playoffs, there is no tomorrow when you lose. If you’re going to win, you have to do it with defense. So, we are going to do with bringing that intensity on defense every game.”

The intensity helped the Wildcats finish off the season with two wins after allowing a total of 50 points in the final two rounds of the state tournament. While the play can get exhausting on the court, the players enjoyed using their defense to win games.

Throughout the season, Edgewood’s bench seemed to pay more attention when its team was on defense. Sometimes it felt the Wildcats deflected at least one pass on every possession by their opponents.

Free helped bring that intensity back to the Edgewood boys basketball program and with it has come a winning culture. The Wildcats expect to have a majority of their rotation back for a chance to repeat next season but for those leaving, this season has left a lasting impression.

“I’ve never known another coach that has dedicated so much time to a team,” Bush said. “He was the only coach that I’ve ever had that gave me confidence in myself… Every practice coach Free would bring the same energy and push us to become the best we could possibly be.”