By RICK PETERSON
Dwayne Paul became intrigued with Hayden High boys basketball long before the Wildcats' coaching position opened up.
And when Torrey Head stepped down following the 2020-21 season, Paul knew that's where he wanted to be.
"There were so many things that attracted me to the Hayden job -- the tradition, the history, the support that you get,'' said Paul, a former Emporia State assistant coach who most recently served as head coach and athletic director at Lebo. "I was at Emporia State and I was on my way to Southwest Baptist and I stopped in to watch Hayden play Emporia High. It was just such a great atmosphere and I was like, "This is crazy. I'm not even coaching a game, I'm just sitting here watching, and I'm sweating like I'm actually in the game.'
"I wanted to be a part of that and when the opportunity presented itself I had to go full force for it.''
Paul was an assistant to Shaun Vandiver at Division II Emporia State from 2013-18 after previously serving as a full-time assistant at Henderson State. He also spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at Wyoming.
Paul played collegiately at Eastfield College, a two-year community college in Mesquite, Texas, before later playing at Birmingham Southern and Murray State. Paul also played professionally for the East Kentucky Miners of the CBA.
Paul is coming off a successful run at Class 1A Division I Lebo, leading the Wolves to a pair of state tournament appearances and a 16-5 record this past season.
Paul said he has appreciated his time at Lebo, but thought the chance to coach at Hayden and in the Centennial League was too good to pass up.
"One of the things I always said was that I wanted to coach against and coach with some of the best coaches in the state and the best players in the state and you get all of that in the Centennial League,'' Paul said. "There's great coaches and great players and you consistently see players from the Centennial going on to play at the next level. I wanted to challenge myself and be a part of that.
"This was the best opportunity for me and my family. I tell people all the time that I could have been at Lebo the rest of my career and be very happy, but God has a way of working things out and these are not opportunities that come about every often.''
Paul met with his Lebo team Wednesday morning to inform them that he was leaving the school and will meet with Hayden's players on Thursday.
Hayden, which captured the most recent of its eight state boys championships in 2018, is coming off a 4-16 season, but returns several key players, including third-team All-Shawnee County sophomore Joe Otting and sophomore all-county honorable mention pick Jake Muller.
"I'm excited to get up there Thursday and meet the guys,'' Paul said. "I pride myself on hard work and defense and that's kind of a Hayden staple. If we can do that and add a little bit of youth to some of the depth that we have returning for next year, and get some of the junior high kids excited about Hayden basketball and chomping at the bit to get to Hayden High to continue that tradition, I think that we could have something special here.''