“My mom raised me and two sisters, and it was difficult for us to afford college,” Wes says. “I didn’t want to take out loans, so I worked for a year, then attended Johnson for a year, then worked for a year. I stretched out my schooling for eight years, but no one calls me ‘doctor.'”
Wes was recruited by Russell Morgan to play basketball for Johnson. As Wes worked his way through school and played ball, he also married his wife, Linda, and decided he wanted to spend his life working with young people. He graduated in 1984 with a degree in youth ministry, then immediately enrolled at the University of Tennessee. He helped Doug Karnes coach basketball and served as the volleyball coach at Johnson while earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at UT.
In 1987, Wes began coaching women’s basketball at Maryville College, taking the struggling team to six seasons with winning records and five appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament. He joined the women’s basketball coaching staff at North Carolina State for two seasons, served as head women’s coach at Francis Marion University for four more, and then served as the head women’s coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga from 1998 to 2013. He left UT Chattanooga in 2013 to become head coach at North Carolina State, where he’s taken the women’s team to the Sweet 16 three times.
This year, Wes won the 2021 United States Marine Corps/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division I National Coach of the Year.
“It was a great honor,” Wes says. “You are chosen by your peers, who understand what it takes. They get it. At the same time, it’s a program award, and you don’t win it unless your team and your staff are performing. It was humbling to receive it.”
As both an educator and a coach, Wes sees the value of college sports for students.
A lot of companies look for student-athletes because they know these students have learned to manage their time, work with other people, and pursue their goals,” he says. “For many students, competition on the court becomes part of their DNA, and they pursue excellence in the classroom and in their careers, as well.”
He notes that the opportunity to play sports in college can significantly influence a student’s college decision, as it did for him.
“I wanted an education, and I also wanted to play basketball,” he says. “I didn’t have the means to attend college on my own, but the generous alumni and friends who contributed to the school made it possible for me. Coach Morgan and Coach Karnes, Dr. Eubanks, Dr. Blevins–without these people I might not have a college education. I owe so much to Johnson.”