By: Shawn O’Brate

LANDER – A few weeks ago a story was written about the Wyoming Indian Lady Chiefs’ basketball coach, Aleta Moss, and her receiving an honorary Coach of the Year (COTY) award from the National High School Basketball Coaches Association (NHSBCA). 

The NHSBCA’s John R. Wooden Legacy Coaching Award, which is in its infancy, was awarded to two coaches in each state that represented five traits that all great coaches share: education, longevity, character, service and excellence. 

Not only did Moss show these traits, but another local coach did as well. Stu Mullins, the Lander Valley High School (LVHS) boys’ head coach, was also awarded this award due to his excellent standards through his career of teaching others (education), his model behavior of doing the right things in the right way (character), and his constant winning, which has included a state championship back in 2019 (excellence). 

“I felt it was quite an honor to receive the John Wooden Legacy Award and everything it stood for,” Mullins said afterward. “It really isn’t the traditional ‘Coach of the Year’ award which often just goes to the coach who had the most successful season. This award was given more thought and to win the first ever was humbling and meaningful.”

Coach Stu Mullins has watched his team grow into champions at Lander Valley. (p/c Carl Cote)

That mindset was felt throughout the award “ceremony,” as Coach Mullins didn’t want the big hullabaloo and big setting for the award, stating it was “probably the most anti-climactic ceremony possible — just how I like it.”

Coach Mullins was also excited to see both Wooden Legacy Awards go to Fremont County coaches, both himself and Moss, stating, “I think everyone in the state knows how good basketball is in our county, so it’s great that it worked out that way.”

Even though Mullins is now looked at with even more awe and superiority, he says the team and their practices haven’t changed much. “Honestly, I attempt to shy away from any personal attention as much as possible,” Mullins said. “I explain to our team constantly that any of these types of awards are a direct byproduct of our program having success.”

With success on the mind of Mullins and his team, they look toward this upcoming season starting against Douglas in mid-December. “You can start to feel the excitement when the air gets a little more crisp and it gets dark sooner,” Mullins said. “We are consistently getting 20+ kids to open gyms right now and that’s just with the kids that aren’t playing football or running cross country … We have a really nice group of those kids back this year and we’re really excited about some of our juniors that present all off-season in the gym. I think we’ll fly under the radar a bit while we find our footing and navigate our difficult non-conference, but I really like the material we have.” 

As far as this season goes, the coach and team understand that there’s always ways to move up and improve. Lander Valley is no different.

“We are always looking to take the next step,” Coach Mullins said. “One area of focus for us the past couple of years has been to improve our youth programs from top to bottom. We want there to be a lot of options to play the game and build skills … Lander has the potential to be a very consistent program with the influx of students from the reservation and building our programs in town.” 

Coach Mullins quickly moved from the award reception to the programs that have sprouted some strong basketball players for him: players like Tisso Guina, who was selected to the Wyoming Coaches Association (WCA) All-Star game this past July. 

“It requires a lot of personal time, but we see the benefit,” Mullins stated. 

Now, onto the season. Mullins is confident that after some growing pains the Tigers’ team will find ways to win the big games and return to some form of spotlight that involves the postseason, especially after diving deep into how other teams around the region have developed lately. 

“Our side of the state is going to be tough,” Mullins explained. “Worland returns their core group that they’ve had for three years. Powell won our region last year and had two seniors. Lyman brings back their best two players. Pinedale has undergone some growing pains but now will enjoy the fruits of their kids gaining experience. So we’ll have our hands full every night, that’s for sure.

“It’s going to be tough to snag one of those four Regional spots like it is every year,” Mullins continued. “If we can find a way to rebound, shoot more consistently and not turn the ball over, we should be right in the mix when it matters.”

Congratulations to Coach Mullins and GO TIGERS!