Rick Bell lost his first game as Canon-McMillan's basketball coach by 11 points to Baldwin. When he walked into the locker room after that 2001 game, he had trouble believing what he saw.
"With the exception of a couple players, they just accepted losing. It was OK to them," Bell said. "I pulled our coaching staff together outside the locker room and said, 'Never mind about teaching them how to dribble and shoot. We have to change the culture here.' "
Seven years later, it's like culture shock at Canon-McMillan. The Big Macs have a winning basketball team.
It has been decades since this Washington County school has experienced such a culture. Under Bell's direction, Canon-McMillan has clinched a WPIAL playoff spot for the first time since 1996 and has a 16-6 overall record.
But the Big Macs have done much more than qualify for the postseason. With a victory tonight at Peters Township, Canon-McMillan will win a share of the Class AAAA Section 4 title. Canon-McMillan has won only one section title in school history, and that came in 1973.
The Big Macs have been one of the biggest turnaround stories in the WPIAL.
"I am very patient with other people, but I'm not very patient with myself," said Bell, 43, who came to Canon-McMillan after a successful 11-year stint at Peters Township. "I thought this would happen sooner. But once we got here and saw what the mind-set was, we knew it was going to be a lot of work."
Although Canon-McMillan starts four seniors, Bell doesn't believe the Big Macs are a one-hit wonder.
"I honestly think because we have eight seniors that people believe we're a flash-in-the-pan program," Bell said. "But I think we have a good program in place, and we'll be alright in the future, too."
The City League boys' and girls' basketball championships will be played Feb. 21 at the Palumbo Center for the first time.
The title games have been played at Mellon Arena, the Petersen Events Center and Fitzgerald Field House for the past eight years.
The WPIAL boys' and girls' basketball playoff pairings and brackets will be announced by the league Tuesday night.
This is one of the shortest regular seasons in WPIAL history. The reason is because the PIAA championships are earlier: March 14-15.
Easter is March 23 and the PIAA didn't want to have championship games Easter weekend. So it moved up the dates of the championships, which in turn shortened the WPIAL schedule.
The WPIAL boys' and girls' championships will be Feb. 22-23 at the Palumbo Center.
• Duquesne is starting to show interest in McKeesport's Quentin Harding, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who leads the team in scoring at 16.3 points a game. Duquesne's coaches, including head coach Ron Everhart, have been at a few of Harding's games recently.
"They're taking a look and they really seem to like him," said McKeesport coach Corey Gadson. "There's a chance they might offer him [a scholarship] because they think he fits their style."
• Jamie Smith, a senior guard on the Woodland Hills girls' basketball team, has made a verbal commitment to St. Peter's. Smith is one of the leading scorers in the WPIAL, averaging 23 points a game.
• It's beginning to look more and more like Montour's Christian Wilson won't be attending Michigan.
Wilson, a running back, committed to Michigan in August, but had second thoughts when Rich Rodriguez became coach. In the past month, Wilson has made visits to North Carolina and Boston College.
"Notre Dame came in [Wednesday], but I don't know if anything will materialize from that," said Montour coach Lou Cerro.
• Josh Vick, who led the WPIAL in passing yardage this past season, has chosen New Hampshire, an NCAA Division I-AA school.
• Indiana running back Andy DeGory will attend Colgate.
• Central Catholic tight end-linebacker Quentin Williams chose Northwestern over Stanford Wednesday, and one of the main factors was distance. "Being closer to home was a big part of the decision. "I wanted the comfort of being able to drive home, and being close to family."