Hoop dreams: Whitlock brings love of game to new basketball complex

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Cullman Basketball Complex owner Branch Whitlock (in gray) said he saw a big local need for a facility like his. / Nick Griffin

HANCEVILLE – Cullman has always been a big sports town, but basketball can sometimes take a back seat to baseball and football. Branch Whitlock would like to see that change and is working to make basketball one of the focuses in Cullman County with the opening of the Cullman Basketball Complex. Whitlock is the head coach of the Fairview Aggies varsity boys’ basketball team, and he opened the complex in September. Whitlock’s love for basketball has brought him a long way since he started coaching and now he spends almost every day working with players on the hardwood.

“I’ve loved basketball for a long time; I grew up playing it all my life and just knew that I always wanted to be around the game,” Whitlock said. “I got into coaching at the middle school level and then I did high school with Bobby Meyer at Cullman (High School) and just wanted to do more things and get more kids involved in basketball.”

Whitlock said he saw a big local need for a facility like his.

“As a coach you can influence 10 or 12 kids at a time, but with a basketball facility you can impact the whole county and area. That’s really what I want to do is make an impact citywide and countywide to get guys involved,” he said. “The way it’s been in Cullman is you have to drive to Decatur, Huntsville, Birmingham and places like that to get any kind of training or extra basketball. It’s been a need here for a while and that was something that I really wanted to do.”

The basketball complex offers classes for a wide range of age groups as well as team practice rentals and other training features. Whitlock has plans for even more training options, but he’s waiting on more kids to come through and start practicing.

“We work with pretty much all ages, but our classes start with second grade and go up all the way to sixth grade; right now, as far as boys’ and girls’ classes, we have time slots for each and it’s a very skill-based program. We start at the very beginning and work with them from the ground up putting the foundation in. Passing, dribbling, shooting, all those things, and as the kids progress we bump up to some more advanced things. As kids start to come we may throw in extra classes that are just advanced-level classes, but right now we don’t have enough kids and not enough people know about us yet. We do more of our advanced training in our one-on-ones right now because it’s easier to evaluate a kid one-on-one and develop them more quickly.”

Whitlock recruited some former local players and other basketball minds to help him run the complex, saying he really values the playing experience of his staff members when it comes to coaching up younger athletes.

“I’ve got Matt Cofer on staff with me and he really does a great job. He recently graduated from Good Hope High School, finished All-County and All-Area in basketball. Of course, previous to that he was at Cullman High School where he was playing with Lawson (Schaffer), (Seth) Swalve and Brontae (Harris) and all those college guys where he picked up a lot of those work ethics and all the skill work and stuff,” Whitlock shared. “Matt had opportunities to play college basketball and chose to stay close to home but is still searching for an opportunity to play. He hasn’t given up on that dream; he’s here every day putting in the work, so having a guy who loves it and wants to be around it all the time has definitely been a big asset for us.”

The Cullman Basketball Complex also plays host to pick-up games and leagues every week. Whitlock wanted to provide a place where people can play basketball recreationally with their friends as well as come and learn from coaches.

“As of right now every Wednesday from 4-8 p.m. we have pick-up games that guys come in and play. It costs $2 to play and as long as I’m not running a training session it’ll be full court. It’s just a cheap option for folks to be able to come out and play basketball with some good guys and have fun competing,” he said. “We do have a men’s league. It went really well, we had 13 teams in our men’s league and we played it on Sundays. We’re probably going to start another men’s league; signups will run through January and we’re going to start playing in February.”

Whitlock is excited to be able to help young athletes and give casual players a place to enjoy the game, but the biggest impact he wants to make is on the sports culture in the community.

“I think Alabama in general is a football state and Cullman in particular is a baseball town, but I do think that there’s a growing interest in basketball countywide. Going way back there have been some teams randomly throughout the years that have made final fours and won state championships, and now it seems like every year there are one or two teams in the county that are making a run and having legitimate shots,” he said. “I think that’s because of the growing interest in basketball, but again the issue is that people have to drive so far to do it. I hear from everyone that there aren’t enough kids interested in basketball to do it, but I disagree, I think the problem is that kids have nowhere to do it. Basketball has always been my favorite sport and I talk to a lot of kids who love basketball, but they choose other sports because you can find a field anywhere. For basketball you have to have a place to shoot and play and I’m trying to provide that opportunity.”

To learn more about the Cullman Basketball Complex or sign up for classes and tournaments, check out www.cullmanbasketballcomplex.com. For more, see  www.facebook.com/cullmanbasketballcomplex or call 256-590-6944. The complex is located at 10211 U.S. Highway 31 in Hanceville.

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