Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Wes Flanigan is quick to remind you that he was born and raised in Little Rock. After playing basketball for Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School and then Auburn University, Flanigan worked as an assistant for Mississippi State, the University of Nebraska, University of Alabama-Birmingham and Northwest Mississippi Community College. While he was an assistant coach for the Little Rock Trojans last year, the team set a program record for wins and upset Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. His pride in the capital city is one of the many reasons he was picked to replace Chris Beard as the Trojans' head basketball coach in March, after Beard left for Texas Tech via UNLV.
What about last year's team made it one of the most successful teams in Little Rock's history?
It all started with a great staff and a great administration that supported us. It all started with the rebranding, and it kinda carried over from there. It seemed like everything just fell into place. We had unbelievable leadership out of [Little Rock Athletic Director] Chasse Conque and Chris Beard. Everybody just fell in line from there. From a player's standpoint, the thing we focused on each and every day was guys being unselfish, talking about being selfless, being a part of something bigger than themselves. For the most part, those guys bought into it. We had some big-time junior-college transfers who had reputations coming in. We had some veterans who had been in the program for two, three years under [former head coach] Steve Shields, who had already built us a solid foundation. We all came together with one goal in mind that was about winning. We'd talk about winning each and every day, what it was going to take to be winners. We had some things fall our way. We developed some confidence in each other, started believing in each other. The rest is history.
With baseball in full swing and football right around the corner, not many people in Arkansas have basketball on their minds right now. What's your team currently doing to prepare for the season?
We're working out, just like everybody else in the country. The rules have changed to where you can spend two hours a week developing your guys. Our strength coach, John Barron, who does a heck of a job for us, has six hours with our guys. We're just trying to keep them in rhythm, getting up a lot of shots, working on their skill levels.
Coach Chris Beard left the team to be the head coach of Texas Tech in April. How do you plan to continue the success he had in his one year at UALR?
The foundation has been laid. Thanks to Steve Shields and Chris Beard, I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where I actually have a better job than those guys had. Because of their hard work, their perseverance, some of the things that they believed in and set forward in our program, here we are today coming off a 30-win season. Now I'm living the dream each and every day, being here at home. A hometown kid being a college coach, that doesn't happen very often. I was fortunate enough that Mr. Conque believed in me and gave me this opportunity, and we're just gonna try to take this torch and run with it.
Anybody who went to a Trojans game last year probably heard Coach Beard screaming at his players, the refs, whoever. Do you yell as much as Coach Beard? How would you describe your coaching style?
We had a staff where all of us were a little emotional. I can't say that I'll be as vocal as Coach Beard. I can't say really, to be honest with you, how I will be, with this being my first opportunity as a college coach. I've had some experience coaching AAU ball and things like that, which is totally different. I think I'll be a guy who has confidence in the things we're doing. I won't change a lot. A big reason why I came back to Little Rock was the ability to learn from Coach Beard more about motion offense, which I have a base in from playing in college for Cliff Ellis and working for Bubba Skelton at Northwest Mississippi. I've had some experience in motion offense and want to continue to do that. I would be crazy to come in here as a first-year coach with eight returning players and try to change a lot of things that we did. I do want to play a bit more pressure defense and pick the pace up a little bit, but not to an extent where it costs us wins.
Let's say I'm a talented recruit who's considering your school. Give me your recruiting pitch.
The first thing is why not us? There are a lot of things here in our community that are positive right now. We got a city that is really expanding, and it's a good city. We have a university here that has the resources to be one of the top two or three teams in this league year in and year out. From an athletic standpoint, our facilities are unbelievable. I just think all the way around, the city, the support, the facilities. ... We have a great thing going here in Little Rock, and I'm excited to be a part of it.
There's been a big campaign to make the Trojans "Little Rock's Team." Do you and your players actively talk and think about representing the city?
Always. At the end of every huddle every day, we ask the guys, "Who are we?" and they repeat, "Little Rock." We ask the guys, "Who do we play for?" and they repeat, "Little Rock." That's what we stand for. We want to make our community proud. As a Little Rock guy now being at the helm, obviously I have a vested interest in this city, this community and this state. Every time we put that uniform on, every time I put this shirt on, I wear it proudly, and I want to instill that in my team.