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High school basketball: Ogden coach reaches milestone

OGDEN — Phil Russell's milestone night got off to an inauspicious start.

One of the first things he saw as his Ogden girls basketball team took the floor against Box Elder on Thursday was an orange sign with the number 500 written in black on it. He had a nice view of it, too, as it sat in the bleachers directly facing him and his bench.

"When I saw that 500 sign at the beginning of the game I thought, 'Holy hell I'm jinxed, that's not going to work,'" Russell said. "I almost went over and told them, 'Please turn it around.' Oh my gosh."

Fortunately for Russell, neither the sign nor the Bees could spoil his big night.

Russell earned his 500th win as Ogden's girls basketball coach when the Tigers defeated Box Elder, 47-40. Russell, the state's all-time leader in girls basketball coaching wins, has led Ogden to five state titles and 10 region championships during his 37-year coaching career.

"It's a milestone," Russell said. "Who would have ever thought you'd get 500 wins along the way? It's a very special night."

Ogden's gymnasium was fittingly decorated for the big night. The bleacher aisles were lined with orange and black balloons. Russell, who cut down one of the nets following the contest, was given a plaque by school administrators commemorating his achievement.

"It's been a long time coming," Russell said. "They say if you coach long enough you're liable to win a few games. I have a lot of old players here tonight and that really made it special."

Following a tightly contested first half, the Tigers made sure not to ruin Russell's special night. The game was tied 18-18 at halftime before junior guard Kia Wilson took over. She hit back-to-back 3-pointers and scored 10 straight points to give Ogden a comfortable 28-18 lead.

"Kia Wilson made a big difference for us," Russell said. "She's like a one-man fast break."

Wilson was proud to play a big role in Russell's 500th win.

"I was very excited," Wilson said. "Coming into this game I was really focused and I was just thinking, I have to work my hardest and even though I'm tired and my legs hurt I had to still go out there and put it on the court for him because he really deserves it and so do these seniors. None of us have been a part of something so huge. It means so much because we all love him dearly and he is just the best coach ever."

The Tigers may have been a little wound up early in the game because they were feeling the pressure of delivering Russell's 500th win.

"There were balloons and cake and everything," said Ogden guard Shanice Stevenson. "What were we supposed to do if we lost? There was a lot of pressure."

Russell will go for win No. 501 when Ogden plays Provo in the first round of the 4A state tournament on Saturday.