Basketball coaching changes: Azar steps down; Vining is back; two 500-game winners retire

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The high school basketball season finished up less than three weeks ago, but several prominent programs and coaches have already made big changes.

Wesleyan legend Jan Azar has stepped down, and East Hall legend Seth Vining has stepped up.

Jesse Bonner and Bob Westbrook, each with over 500 career wins, have retired.

Lady Grooms and Dani Wright have left two of the state’s top jobs for other opportunities, and a coach fired in Albany might get his job back if many in the community have their way.

Here’s a look at 10 of the more newsworthy coaching changes in what’s still a young off-season.

*Jan Azar, whose 13 state championships are the most in Georgia high school basketball history, announced her resignation a week after Wesleyan was runner-up to Holy Innocents’ in the Class A private-school playoffs. Azar started Wesleyan’s program in 1999 and won her first state title in 2002 and later a record-tying six straight from 2008 through 2013. Azar’s record in 21 seasons at Wesleyan was 571-113.

*Wesleyan hired Brookwood coach Carolyn Whitney as Azar’s replacement. She’s a former Wesleyan player and assistant coach on Azar’s staff for five seasons and led Brookwood this season to its first region title since 2011.

*East Hall has coaxed Seth Vining out of retirement to coach its boys teams again. Vining, 67, has 745 career victories and four state titles, two with East Hall’s boys in 2001 and 2003 and two with East Hall’s girls in 1979 and 1980. Vining most recently coached at nearby Lakeview Academy in 2013. Seth Thompson, who had been promoted to head coach for this past season, will remain as an assistant coach.

*Archer girls coach Bob Westbrook, perhaps best known for his time at Etowah in Cherokee County, has retired. Westbrook’s coaching record was 633-327 with 28 playoff appearances, 13 region titles, three final fours and the 2005 Class AAAA championship at Etowah. He came to Archer in 2016-17 and led the Tigers to their first state semifinal that season.

*Norcross girls coach Dani Wright was Archer’s choice to replace Westbrook. Wright’s teams were 45-15 at Norcross, where she replaced Angie Hembree, on whose staff she had worked for three previous seasons. Wright also played under Hembree at Collins Hill and was part of state championship teams in 2000 and 2001. The Norcross job now becomes the most prominent one on the market. Norcross won three state titles under Hembree and was runner-up in 2017, a quarterfinalist the past two seasons.

*Lady Grooms, who led Greater Atlanta Christian to three semifinal appearances and one runner-up finish in five seasons, is the new girls coach at Landmark Christian. Grooms is a former Georgia player who made a couple of all-SEC teams. Grooms is returning to Fairburn, where she won four GISA championships (2009-12) at Arlington Christian.

*Rufus McDuffie, who led Dougherty’s boys to three playoff appearances in his three seasons in Albany, has moved to Appling County, his alma mater. McDuffie is best known for winning five state titles at Mitchell-Baker from 1984 to 2002. McDuffie will work again with Appling County football coach Rick Tomberlin. Both are Appling County graduates, and the two were at Valdosta together for a couple of seasons a decade ago.

*Kennesaw Mountain boys coach Jesse Bonner has retired. A high school coach for 37 seasons, Bonner got his 500th victory in 2018. He started Kennesaw Mountain’s program in 2000. He previously coached at Douglass, where he led two teams to state semifinals.

*Keith Hayes has lost his job at Monroe, which had a top-10 Class AAA boys basketball team this season until assessed with 16 forfeits just before the Region 1-AAA tournament this year. The forfeits were the result of an academically ineligible player and weren’t directly the coach’s fault. Many in the Albany community continue to support the former coach and have attended school-board meetings to request his reinstatement. Monroe player Quadre Watts told WALB-TV in Albany, “He taught us a lot of things like being a man, keep yourself up, dress well,” he added. “He showed us a lot of stuff, so I feel like that is a good thing.”

*J.J. Oliver is out as Tucker’s girls coach after a 6-20 finish. Tucker was a upward-trending top-10 team in 2018 but was bounced from the state tournament when the GHSA ruled that the program was guilty of undue influence in securing players, six of whom had transferred to Tucker in the off-season. Oliver was not directly linked to the transfers and retained as head coach this past season.

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