Family Tradition: John Welsh making his own mark with All-Cherokee County Basketball MVP

Spring Garden’s John Welsh goes up strong to the basket against Winterboro in Class 1A Northeast Sub-Regional action in February. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director

There are plenty of things an athlete can use as motivation. For Spring Garden 6-foot-4 junior forward John Welsh, all he has to look at is his family name.

His mother is JSU Sports Hall of Fame pitcher and Spring Garden softball coach Ann Shelton Welsh. Father Mark Welsh played football at Maryville College in Tennessee.

His grandfather is legendary Spring Garden and Cherokee County basketball coach Dale Welsh, who has the Spring Garden gym named in his honor.

His uncle, Cherokee County Schools Superintendent Mike Welsh, brother Luke Welsh and cousin Cam Welsh are all former/current Berry College athletes.

Mike Welsh played basketball for the Vikings and graduated in 1991. Luke and Cam Welsh currently play football and baseball with the Vikings respectively.

His sister, Neely Welsh, is a former Lady Panther basketball state champion and Cherokee County Most Valuable Player.

Now it’s John’s turn to be in the spotlight.

After averaging 17.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, two assists, 1.9 steals and a block last season for the Panthers (27-4), John Welsh has now etched his name in family’s storied athletic history. He was recently selected by the Cherokee County boys basketball coaches as their 2023-24 All-Cherokee County Most Valuable Player.

“I’m not going to be seen as a letdown in my family. I’m going to try as hard as I can,” John Welsh said. “I couldn’t have done this without my coaches and teammates.”

Speaking of teammates, John Welsh teamed with twin brother Jake to form one of Northeast Alabama’s most potent inside 1-2 punches on the court. Jake Welsh, a 6-7 center, delivered 13.3 points, 11 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 blocks and a steal per contest. He joins John Welsh as an All-Cherokee County basketball selection.

“We’ve got good chemistry,” John Welsh said of his brother. “We’ve played in the yard forever, since we were four or five years old. We come up here to the gym and shoot basketball with each other. We run through drills and plays all the time. That’s where our chemistry comes from.”

While Jake Welsh is the Panthers’ main go-to player down low, John Welsh has the skill set of a guard to go with his size, Panther head coach Levi Hatcher said.

“In terms of build and skill set, I look at John a lot like I viewed myself whenever I got to college (Shorter),” Hatcher said. “I’d been a point guard my whole life, but when I grew I got to go to the post side of things. When you have the guard skill set, and they put another guard on you, then you can use your size and go down low. If they put a bigger guy on you, then you can step out.

“John is able to do that, make some versatile moves. They put a big post on him, he’s going to go by them. He can finish well. If he’s not going to get there, he’s got good enough vision and passing where he can do that. If you want to sag off of him, he can shoot it and make you respect that. It is a difficult matchup for other teams with his size and ability to stretch the floor.”

One of John Welsh’s most memorable games this season was against Winterboro in the Class 1A sub-regionals.

The Panthers hadn’t been to the Northeast Regional Tournament at Jacksonville State since 2020. The previous season Spring Garden lost a heartbreaking sub-regional game at home to Oakwood Adventist to end their season.

Against Winterboro, John Welsh scored 21 points to lead the Panthers to a 59-35 win.

“It was just fun being in that environment,” John Welsh said. “We all wanted to change how we felt last year, and we changed it.”

The Panthers went on to claim a 58-32 win in the Northeast Regional semifinals before their season ended to Skyline in the regional final 58-51.

“It wasn’t as far as we wanted to go. We wanted to go all the way, but it’s been a while since we won 27 games and only lost four,” John Welsh said.

Sounds like John Welsh may have already found even more motivation for next season.

Joining the Welshes from Spring Garden on the All-Cherokee Boys Basketball Team is Connor Bates and Chapel Pope.

Bates averaged 5.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and two steals. Pope posted 5.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a steal.

Representing Gaylesville is senior guard Kyler Bradley, sophomore guard Kuper Bradley and junior forward Collin Hendon.

Kyler Bradley averaged 21.6 points, four rebounds, 1.3 assists and 4.7 steals. Kuper Bradley contributed 10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 2.4 steals. Hendon had 6.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.8 steals and a block.

Selected from Cedar Bluff is senior guard Eli McFry and freshman center Kadin Fife.

McFry managed 8.4 points, six rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals. Fife came away with 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest.

Chosen from Sand Rock is junior guard/forward Cam Gifford and freshman guard Ty Traffanstedt.

Gifford gained 10.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Traffanstedt tallied 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.9 steals.

Cherokee County High School had a pair of selections in senior guard Eli Martin and senior forward Jacob Cornejo.

Martin managed 14 points, 3.5 rebounds and a steal. Cornejo collected eight points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal per game.

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