PRINCETON — Princeton’s girls basketball coach Paula Wooten stands at mid court Friday afternoon in her blue Princeton hoodie and gray sweats as she watches her daughter and star senior point guard Meredith Wooten execute the offense she has created.
In her left peripheral are five state championship banners, but none of them say girls basketball. Wooten was a part of the 2014 state champion volleyball team as an assistant. Behind her are four banners lamenting Princeton’s girls basketball’s state runner up achievements in 1976, 1977, 1980 and 1986. Wooten got a chance to be a part of that 1986 team as an assistant.
Saturday against Murphy in the 1-A East State Championship game at Wheatmore, Wooten will attempt to pull an Al McGuire as she will coach her last game for the Lady Bulldogs.
“I never thought I would win a state championship as long I coached,” Wooten said. “We did it in volleyball, but basketball is a different story. Nobody ever gave us a chance to get here.”
“But it just shows when you play and work hard with determination and grit, you can do anything,” Wooten continued.
After coaching at Princeton for over 35 years, Wooten is retiring at the end of the school year. Wooten says she’s thankful for this opportunity in her final game because some coaches never get this opportunity.
Wooten and her team have tried to put aside the idea of her retiring aside, but it is there in the back of their mind.
“It kind of hit me in the middle of practice,” Meredith said. “I got really said in the middle of practice.”
Meredith has played varsity for her mom all four years. She said she has taken her game up a level in the playoffs because she wants to go as far as they can.
“It means so much, just even more that it is my mom’s last year and my last year, it’s just like the best way to go out,” Meredith said. “I’m just glad I got her (Paula) to go through with.”
Coach Wooten spent the practice, doing what she’s done for 35 years: teaching. Wooten emphasized the importance of not always going 90 miles per hour, but being more purposeful with their offensive movements. The importance of not allowing Murphy star Torin Roberts to play in space. Wooten said she believes her team is ready after practice.
“I just hope the girls can go down and show how good they are, and not play afraid or let all the hype everything get in their way of playing,” Wooten said. “I don’t think they will, they’re not that kind of people.”
Saturday morning for the Lady Bulldogs will start with breakfast at their church in Princeton. Then they will make the 2 and a half hour Trece to Wheatmore High. Then the game will begin. Coach Wooten got a bit emotional thinking what it will be like going through the day with her daughter for her final game day as a coach.
“It’s something you can kind of dream about,” Wooten said. “I’ve always said I’m blessed to be able to be here with her, have an opportunity to coach her everyday and be with her.”
Wooten paused as a tear came to her eye.
“I hadn’t really thought a lot about it yet, because I’m trying not to because I know I’ll get emotional if I do. But I’m just going to enjoy the moment, and then later I’ll have plenty of time to cry about it,” Wooten said before letting out a chuckle.