After accepting the job to become the head coach of Miller Grove High School boys’ basketball team in 2004, Sharman White established a vision of competing for state titles.
“Coming from a team that I had just taken to the state championship the year prior at Carver-Atlanta, I wanted to engrave that mentality into Miller Grove,” White said. “I wanted to compete for state championships as soon as possible. I didn’t look at the word ‘process,’ I didn’t look at the word ‘time,’ even though it took time and it took a process. I didn’t pay attention to those words; I kind of blocked them out of sight and out of [my] conscious.
“I wanted us to be a national powerhouse,” White added. “These were the things I spoke over the first guys that put on a Miller Grove uniform. I told them they have a chance to be a part of something special. I just felt it.”
What White felt came to fruition and then some—six consecutive state titles (a Georgia high school basketball record), national recognition and talented players who have gone on to have successful athletic careers after graduating from Miller Grove.
White and his staff have accomplished a lot in a 10-year span. For the coaches and players, all it took was hard work, commitment and a passion for what they believed in.
It started when White took on a challenge that he could not refuse.
“[The Miller Grove job] was a great opportunity to start a program from scratch,” he said. “I got to work with one of the best administrators in the entire state in Dr. Ralph Simpson and he actively pursued me and explained to me why this would be a great move and a great opportunity, and I believed it.”
When White took the job at Carver in 2001, he inherited a program that required a change in the culture. With Miller Grove, he could set a culture of winning from day one.
“It made for a different type of transition that worked out pretty good,” White said.
However, it was not an easy transition.
Often when a new school opens in a community, students are redistricted from different schools to the new school. They are forced to leave friends and their extracurricular activities behind to build new friendships and start over with new teams clubs.
It was no different when Miller Grove opened in January 2005. White found himself in a position of convincing players from Redan and Lithonia high schools to build something at Miller Grove.
“That was really tough,” White said. “That was probably the hardest part of this job. [Players were redistricted from] Redan, who at the time was a basketball powerhouse. They had some great teams.
To actually try to convince kids that we were going to be just as good as Redan one day was hard. They had the option of staying at their school or coming to Miller Grove.”
A few players took on the challenge. The Miller Grove Wolverines went 4-7 in that 2005 season, while Redan finished 17-9.
“We didn’t have the names, we didn’t have the guys that [could] garner us enough wins or enough success early to make us prominent,” White said. “But the guys that came were committed and that was the biggest thing. They were committed to being a part of something special and that’s what I had to take away from that. I was determined to coach them up until a point where they were going to be just as good or better.”
Two years later, Miller Grove played Redan and pulled out a 55-51 win.
“It really kind of sky-rocketed our program from there,” White said.
From adversity to the start of a dynasty
The Miller Grove Wolverines had not had a losing season since their inaugural season. They went 19-10 in the 2005-06 season and made their first playoff appearance, advancing to the second round where they lost to Cedar Shoals.
The team went 20-6 the following season with a roster that included current NFL player Stephen Hill and former Georgia Tech standout Mfon Udofia. However, they were upset in the region playoffs as a top seed. In the 2007-08 season, the team rebounded and went 26-6 and made it to Final Four, but fell short of its championship goal with a loss to Fayette County.
However, within a three-year period, White’s vision of competing for state titles was starting to become a reality.
“We saw the championship on the horizon and everything coming together, but we didn’t see the multiple championships,” White said. “I didn’t see six in row, and I’m not saying that not because I didn’t believe. I just never looked that far beyond winning [one] championship.”
Just as White did not see the multiple championships his program would go on to win, he also did not see the devastating hit his coaching career would take.
Before the start of the 2008-09 season, months before Miller Grove won its first state championship, White was suspended from teaching and coaching for a year on Nov. 4, 2008, by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission for lying about a player’s eligibility during the 2001-02 school year at Carver.
White always has denied any wrongdoing.
“Personally, that was the most difficult period of my whole tenure at Carver because it was something that was alleged, it was never proven and I had to take a back seat to it,” White said. “It hurt me because [coaching] was something I was passionate about, and I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize it.”
White was forced to be away from his team as they went on a historic run under then-junior varsity Coach Eddie Johnson.
“I had to live through my players, especially the guys I’ve been working with, to see this thing through,” White said. “Sometimes they say you have to lose to win, and I felt like I lost, but I won.
But it was tough. I stayed prayerful and stayed grounded in my faith in God.”
Miller Grove finished a county-best 30-3 that season with Hill, Udofia, Donte Williams and freshman phenom Tony Parker. White was in the stands at the Gwinnett Arena when Miller Grove defeated county-rival Tucker 59-31 to claim its first state title in school history. When the final buzzer sounded, the players ran over to White to celebrate with him.
“I was so proud. I was elated to the point where it was overwhelming,” White said about that moment. “I never felt anything like that before. I was just so proud of the way they took adversity and turned it into a strength. Every night they played with a chip on their shoulder, and watching it from the stands really made me appreciate working with them.”
White returned to teaching and coaching Nov. 4, 2009, and since then, the Miller Grove basketball program has grown to be one of the top programs in the nation. The 2009 state title left a good taste in their mouths, and they were hungry and determined to taste victory over and over again.
“Once we got to that point we got greedy, in a good way,” White said. “We decided this is where we belong, this is where we want to be and everybody that walked through that door believed that and worked for that and was committed to that.”
After the group that included Hill, Udofia and Williams graduated, Miller Grove continued to build a roster full of talent year after year. Parker, Devon Provost, Tony Evans, Brandon Morris, Justin Colvin, Christian Houston, Earl Bryant, Kyre Hamer, James Walker, Keith Pinckney and Lamont West; and current players Alterique Gilbert and Raylon Richardson are some of the names that have kept Miller Grove at the top of the mountain the past 10 years.
Most of White’s players have gone on to have successful college and professional careers, and they still find time to call White to make sure the program is still running smoothly.
“They’re all in touch with the program still to this day,” White said. “I get calls from a lot of the guys all the time, especially if we lose a game. They’ll call or text me, asking me what’s going on and if they need me to come in and talk to [the players]. They’re always around, and they provide that service of brotherhood to the guys that they don’t even know anything about. It’s a true brotherhood.”
The end of a streak
White got a lot of phone calls from former players after Miller Grove saw its championship streak come to an end. The Wolverines lost on the road to Warner Robins 63-57 in overtime in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals on Feb. 25, 2015.
“They called, but it was all in support,” White said. “They weren’t upset or anything like that; they called to lend their support. All good things come to an end at some point, and being the mature young men that they are now they were able to call and let me know that it was OK and we played as hard as we could. They also provided motivation—it’s a chance to start another streak.”
White said the team was disappointed about losing, but also realized that nothing lasts forever.
“It was a balance between the two,” he said. “The disappointment took a greater percentage because we felt we were good enough to win it, but we just had a bad night in Warner Robins.”
Most people, after accumulating as much success as White has in 10 years, are usually ready to see what is next for them career-wise. White admitted that he is ready to take the next step in his career, but said it is not in his hands.
“I’m ready for it now, but I just have to use God’s timing,” White said. “I can’t rush the process or His work. When the opportunity presents itself it won’t be anything that I will have to think about. It will present itself in such a way that it will be for me.
“I don’t rush that process at all, and while I’m at Miller Grove I’m going to give Miller Grove everything I got and I’m going to give the kids everything I got,” White said. “That’s more or less serving a purpose than having a job or being a coach. I don’t feel like I’m going to work, I feel like I go to life because I enjoy what I do.”
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