Phenom Hoop Report catches up with former University of Arkansas basketball star and Virginia State Champion Stefan Welsh who is “Getting it done off the Circuit”

Stefan Welsh has won at every level of basketball from high school to professional and his upstart AAU program WAWG has proven you don’t need shoe deals and big time sponsorship to win on the grassroots level. An All State selection and honorable mention McDonald’s All American, a Street & Smith’s All American and a two time Nike All American Welsh led Newport News (VA) Woodside High School to two Virginia High School League State Championships in 2004 and 2005. In AAU during the summer of 2005 he averaged 25.0ppg in the Super Showcase in Orlando and joined with teammates Duke Crews, Scotty Reynolds and Vernon Macklin to lead Boo Williams to the Nike Peach Jam title! In July 2005, Welsh put on a three point shooting exhibition at the Nike Camp in Indianapolis and later impressed a large group of Division I coaches by switching from his normal shooting guard position to playing point guard. Arkansas, Boston College, Notre Dame, Providence and Virginia were all in attendance and followed Stefan at every stop throughout the summer making a strong push for his services. Welsh went on to prep at Hargrave Military Academy where he averaged 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.0 steals on a team finishing 34-2. In the Champions Prep Classic featuring the top two ranked prep schools in the nation, Welsh had 17 points, six assists and four rebounds to help Hargrave to a 107-101 victory over The Patterson School. All along the way you see a familiar trend with Stefan Welsh, he produces and he wins! Welsh, who also starred in football as an All State wide receiver and defensive back for Woodside High School not only entertained several division I basketball offers but had an offer on the table from UVA football Coach Al Groh before deciding to attend Hargrave Military Academy. For basketball, Welsh was being recruited by a number of schools including Clemson, Maryland, NC State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Miami FL, St. Joes and Xavier before announcing on August 17, 2005 that he will play his college basketball at the University of Arkansas. Welsh helped lead the Razorbacks to two NCAA tournament appearances during his four year Arkansas career and enjoyed his best season in 2008 when he averaged 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He had a career high 27 points in December of 2008 in a win against Northwestern State. Some of his Arkansas career highlights might include a January 2009 upset of #7 ranked Texas in which Welsh had a breakaway layup to provide the winning points. He had 20 points in that upset and Arkansas went on to win 23 games that year advancing to the NCAA tournament where Welsh and Arkansas would take down the Indiana Hoosiers before falling against North Carolina in the second round. Welsh also played in the 2007 NCAA tournament after helping lead Arkansas to the championship game of the SEC tournament where they lost to the defending national champion Florida Gators led by Joakim Noah. Arkansas started that season 12-1 led by Stefan Welsh who was the only returning starter but saw their season come to an end after a first round loss to Southern Cal. Among his regular-season highlights was a 24 point, nine rebound, four assists performance in a 79-77 victory over South Alabama, as well as 27 points in a 96-56 rout of Northwestern State (La.). He netted 22 points in a 74-72 home defeat to Tennessee. Welsh majored in Kinesiology while at Arkansas.

Still chasing NBA dreams an undrafted Stefan Welsh spent 2011-2012 with the Austin Toros of the NBA Developmental League where he averaged 8.3ppg. Welsh then opted to play professionally overseas playing in Israel, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Canada and in China where he averaged double figures during the 2012 season. His successful and traveled career now over, Welsh still draws applause from fans as he participates in the local ProAm which features a collection of top former and current players including some NBA locals. He can still get it done as evidenced by a June 2013 ProAm game in which he scored a league record 59 points, 39 coming with a running clock in the second half! Welsh has returned to Newport News with a new dream, a new mission; to give back. To take all he has learned on his journey to the highest levels of college basketball, knocking on the door of the NBA, in an effort to help others with similar hoop dreams. And so WAWG (We All We Got) was born and has quickly established a national identity. Welsh, a successful and well respected basketball trainer and mentor attracted top talent, kids who passed up the luxury of playing for AAU teams promising sweat suits, gym bags and tennis shoes to play for the well respected and well liked young, energetic coach who has been where they want to go. Coach Mike Banks who is also a highly regarded trainer and local scout has played a key role in WAWG’s early success and points to similarities between he and Stefan Welsh that helped attract him. “He sold me on his passion, we think alike” says Banks. “Were are both father’s so we look at players as if they are our own kids and keep their best interests in mind. We think student first, player second and program third. We preach the need for solid academics, being a good person and a good citizen and we talk about accountability in all we do. We don’t want to simply help them become better players but we want to help them to become better in every way from the classroom to their personal life.” In a region saturated by power AAU programs with big shoe company involvement, Welsh and his budding AAU program grew quickly and competed with great success against those power programs nationwide. By summer’s end WAWG had established an impressive footprint in Virginia’s AAU landscape. Challenges have always inspired Welsh. Longtime high school basketball coach Harry Rest who enjoyed great success in DC and in the Hampton Roads area has been a key figure in the success of the Boo Williams program since the days of Alonzo Mourning. He uses words like “spunky”, a “battler”, an “in your face type player” when describing Stefan the player, and says that will carry over as positives in his coaching career. Coach Rest called Welsh “a rising superstar in coaching. His passion coupled with his role as a new father will give him a good perspective and balance in his life.” A solid endorsement from one of the area’s most respected basketball figures. Phenom Hoop Report sits down with basketball trailblazer Stefan Welsh in a fitting segment; Getting it done off the Circuit!

You’ve always been known as a hard worker and a guy inspired by challenges. You are getting a great deal of accolades from veteran basketball guys impressed with your efforts to this point. That is obviously a great feeling that coaches you played for or look up to are singing your praises.

First I want to stress that I’m not doing this interview to bring attention to myself as I’ve had enough media attention throughout my high school and college career but I want to enlighten people as to how much the AAU game has changed since I was a player. I also want to take the opportunity to let people know you don’t have to be fully sponsored by Nike, Adidas, Under Armor or any other big time brand to attract good talent and become ranked among the best teams in the country.

You played at Woodside High School on back to back state championship teams and you played for two highly successful coaches in current Old Dominion Assistant John Richardson and six time state champion Leon Goolsby who has won four state titles since taking the Norcom High School head coaching position. Can you tell us the influence those two gentlemen had on you'

Playing at Woodside was one of the best decisions me and my family could have made. Coach Richardson was my JV Coach before he got the varsity job and I loved his style of coaching. In my early years he was more than my coach, he was like a father figure that I needed at that time. He was a mentor, a role model for me. Coach Goolsby was and still is like an uncle, like a best friend. He was my math teacher so he dealt with me on more of a personal level. Both challenged me daily to be a better student as well as to become the best player I could be and to be a good teammate. Coach Goolsby had a special impact on keeping me level headed and focused. Over the years I’ve grown extremely close to Coach Goolsby who, even with all of his success at Norcom is the exact same guy he was at Woodside. When I decided to get into coaching he was the first person I called and together we came up with a plan and I stayed within what he outlined. I think a lot of the success we have had is a testament to his coaching and organizational skills. His system really works! Whenever I call him no matter what time of day and no matter how long we talk he always makes time for me. I really enjoy picking his brain and when he gives his stamp of approval on basketball matters I feel much more confident. I really admire and look up to Coach Goolsby because he’s really a caring person, he’s tough but he made me better and more disciplined and I love him for helping to mold me into the person I am today.

Coach Ron Thompson, son of legendary Georgetown Coach John Thompson is the one who recruited you to Arkansas and left after one year to take the head coaching job at Ball State. Stan Heath was your head coach and was fired despite a 20 win season and an NCAA tournament appearance before John Pelphrey was brought in as the Arkansas head coach. How disruptive is that to a player not only dealing with coaching staff changes but system changes, and how much of an effect did it have on your basketball career'


In retrospect it may have been in the best interest of my playing career to transfer. The reason I didn’t transfer is because I loved my teammates, the fans, the people at the University of Arkansas, and Fayetteville had already grown on me as a second home. I guess you could say I got comfortable; I didn’t want to go to a new place and start all over again. Coaching changes and system changes can be one of the toughest situations that a player could ever go through because we have no control over who the university chooses to hire. The new staff is usually totally different from the crew that you signed with and built a family bond with. Always, unless you hire in house things will be nothing like what you had become used to.


Let’s talk about WAWG (We All We Got), how you decided on that team name'


I knew going into the season that nobody believed we would be able to compete on the national circuit. I instilled in my guys to embrace the fact that they had all been cut or overlooked by our other AAU power programs. I wanted them to embrace the fact that nobody knew that we would be able to put the product on the floor that we did and I wanted them to understand that in order to be successful all we needed was one another. I knew that if we put in the work we would get everything out of it that we wanted. In all of our individual skill sessions, weight room sessions and whenever we got together, we didn’t need any help; in our circle we had everything we needed to make the statement that we wanted to make! Our chant became “1-2-3 We All We Got, 4-5-6 We All We Need”.


Your program is a budding program trying to compete against power programs right in the middle of an area now shared by two power AAU programs. Yet that didn’t dampen your will and your confidence that you could make it happen. It didn’t take long before some of the top players began contacting you and suddenly WAWG was a major player! Were you surprised at how quickly it happened'


Honestly the competitor in me would say yes I am a little surprised at how quickly things developed but on the other hand I’m not too surprised because we offer a lot to our kids with regards to skill development and exposure. When your kids are happy with your product they tell other kids. As the season progressed, interest in our team was overwhelming! The fact that it’s my rookie year in coaching and I had little to no coaching experience didn’t seem to deter kids because we were working hard for their best interest and they believed in what we were doing. Actually a rival program indirectly helped us attract kids because they told a couple of my better players at the time that they couldn’t play for them or compete against their fully sponsored organization. From that point everything just took on a totally different dimension. Our kids wanted to make a statement and other kids wanted to be part of our team. We attracted better players and had to reach out to kids to improve our depth. When we played bad teams with really good players I would always leave an open invitation to their guys. Because I couldn’t offer financial rewards to the kids, endless amounts of gear, flights to tournaments, or the “Sneaker circuit tourneys”, I knew we had to offer something that made us a viable option for top kids. We reach out to college coaches for our guys and we outwork other AAU coaches who don’t put the time in with the kids helping them develop their skill sets and their bodies. While many AAU coaches only see their teams Friday through Sunday, I was seeing my guys 5-6 days a week. Each and every kid on my team got better because we were in the gym so much working hard. We weren’t having team practices because I felt like if each and every kid took it personal to get better every session, that would make our team better as a whole. I knew that I could get them the exposure, I had been through the process and I know what is involved. I had well over 40 offers and maintained good relationships with several coaches I met on my journey and I knew that I could get colleges to show interest and offer some of my guys, that’s exactly what happened! From a coaching standpoint and I say this with great humility, as far as X’s & O’s I feel like I would be one of the best in America at getting my guys to execute offensive sets and cause havoc defensively the way my Woodside teams did. I had been exposed to so much basketball and I always considered myself a student of the game and I took it all in. My experiences throughout my career made me confident I could take what I’ve learned not only with regards to X’s and O’s but the total experience and better serve our guys who share the same dreams I had. I’ve been where they are trying to go and I know I can provide valuable guidance for them having lived that life. I was very confident that by finding the right “under the radar guys” the WaWg brand would send shockwaves all across America.


As a high profile athlete who enjoyed success at the highest levels of college basketball and one who endured the sometimes intimidating recruiting process, you offer your players a unique insight and guidance many coaches cannot. Tell us what the WAWG experience will be like for players and what your plans are going forward'


The only thing that changes for WaWg is that these guys earned themselves a national reputation and with that comes bigger expectations. I expect us to be the best non-circuit team in America and I’m willing to go anywhere and play in any tournament against the “sponsored teams” to prove that. I think that we will be alot more talented because people know that they are going to get better and get exposure. The level of interest that we are receiving in Virginia and the border states is humbling. There are guys that are willing to turn down the fully sponsored offers to be a part of this “off the circuit special” lol. This year we’ve been invited to a few more big time tournaments because of how well we finished the year and now we too will have more financial support which is an obvious plus! I’m just anxious to see how these guys respond to the success that we had last year because it’s a lot easier being the hunter than being the hunted. My goal is to have all 11 or 12 guys that we keep sign national letters of intent because that’s the only way you really win in this.


Tell us about some of the players you would credit with helping you get the program off the ground.


All of them! Everyone who put on a WaWg uniform has been a part of our success because they’ve all been a part of our growth. It’s been a total team effort from day 1 to get to this point because everyone embraced the challenges, worked hard, told other kids and that drew more interest and that was all positive. It hurt that we had to cut some players as we evolved into a national team because we had to remain competitive as our schedule became more competitive and because we simply attracted better talent. But to single out certain players wouldn’t be right because everyone who put on our jersey is a part of this.


I want to thank Stefan Welsh for allowing me to do this article. Although he was apprehensive because he didn’t want to give the impression he was using this interview as a promotional tool, Stef accepted my request because his story is an inspirational one. A high profile local athlete who enjoyed success from high school to the professional level, returning to give back to his community and mentor kids with similar dreams. I opted to cover Stef because his story, like our previous article on Mario Haskett is a good story worthy of being told.

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