Denmark High School has only been open for 2 years, but that hasn’t stopped the school from having some great athletic success. Their basketball program is included in that, having reached the 4A Elite 8 in 2018-19 and then the Final 4 this season. The Danes have some very talented players and Coach Tyler Whitlock has done an exceptional job of establishing a winning culture in a short period of time at DHS. Denmark will now be making the jump to 7A next year and Coach Whitlock took some time with us to speak on the move in classification, as well as various aspects within the Danes program. His feedback gives some really good insight on what it takes to build an entirely new program, and have early success while doing so.
2018-19 Record: 24-7 (GHSA 4A Elite 8)
2019-20 Record: 25-6 (GHSA 4A Final 4)
You came to Denmark from Johnson to build the Danes program- Give some insight on what the process of starting a completely new program is like, the challenges/uncertainty that come with it, and what you’ve enjoyed about it.
“Coming to Denmark has been such a blessing and a complete joy. To utilize a phrase from one of my coaching mentors, Joe Dix, it has been “Organized Chaos”. The opportunity to build a program from the ground up has been such an honor. Every coach dreams of the opportunity to start completely fresh and to genuinely make a mark at a school. In the first year, I would say one of our greatest challenge was developing on-court chemistry, as we had kids coming in from 3-4 different schools. Each player had their own basketball experience and understanding of the game, and we had to find a way to mold those ideas into creating our own identity.”
“Off the court, it was challenging, as I had to learn how to do most everything on the fly. Any time you come into a new situation, there are different ways to go about achieving success. Just like on the court, off the court people have their version of “this is how we have always done it.” For us, it was a matter of listening to all of those ideas and figuring out how to incorporate some of those ideas while also creating our own, new identity for how we wanted to do things.”
“The greatest joy has been the relationships I have built with the players, parents, and community of Denmark. From day one, they have been bought in and prepared to face the many obstacles and challenges we would face. One thing about our Denmark community is that we love a good challenge, and what greater challenge than to open a brand new school with the success we have experienced with our basketball program.”
It hasn’t taken long for you guys to find success as you’ve reached the Elite 8 and Final 4 in 4A in your first two seasons. What has allowed you to have that type of success so quickly? Have there been any points of emphasis that helped you and the team be ready to compete and win at a high level?
“The biggest key to our success has been the buy in from the players, their parents, and our administration at Denmark High School. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have buy in, you will fail to reach your full potential. Everyday our kids were committed to getting better and challenging each other to be the best versions of themselves on and off the court. Next would be developing the mentality that our guys deserved to be on the court with the best of the best. We had to develop confidence in ourselves and in our teammates. And we were able to develop that confidence by working harder than everyone around us on a daily basis.”
You guys didn’t have a senior class in 2018-19, but every year is different. What were the differences between this season and last season? Is there anything you felt you were better at or anything you had to focus on more?
“This is one of the most overlooked questions for every program, especially successful programs. Most assume that bringing back the core of your team from a successful team guarantees success, but that isn’t the case at all. Most of the biggest challenges you face have nothing to do with Xs and Os, but rather the team’s approach. You have challenge everyone involved with tough questions: Are you satisfied or are you still hungry? How will you handle going from the hunter to the hunted? How will you address the “expectations” you have for yourself, your team, and from those outside the locker room?”
“We also spent a great deal of time on becoming more fluid in our offense. Our first year, we relied solely on our half-court defense and sheer talent on offense to win games. We knew coming into this season, we had to be able to score the ball more efficiently. Honestly, we still didn’t get to where I would like for us to have gotten to, but we definitely made great strides from the beginning of the season to the end.”
Next year, you’ll be in 7A. Talk about what will come with that step up in classifications and what needed to happen for you to sustain success. What type of adjustments do you think will have to be made? Is there anything you’re looking forward to with being in a new region and new classification?
“I believe every classification in the state of Georgia has top-tier teams. The difference is 7A is flooded with top-tier teams. What that means for us is learning to understand that we cannot have ”off nights”. There are no guarantees. You have to bring your best every single night.”
“The new region we will be entering in to has some of the absolute best coaches in the entire state of Georgia, so we definitely have our work cut out for us! I think it will be great for our kids and our community to be in this new region, as we will get create great rivalries with our neighboring county schools, which is exciting.”
“In order for us to continue our success with this huge jump from 4A to 7A, we have to get much stronger, much quicker, and we must shoot the ball much more consistently, along with improving our pace of play on both sides of the ball. We definitely have our work cut out for us this coming year, but we are very excited for the challenge.”