By Mike Blackerby
The paint wasn’t even dry on Bearden’s 2018 state semifinal loss to Memphis East and Bulldogs coach Jeremy Parrott was already planning ahead to the next season.
Parrott had practically his entire team returning and he expected nothing short of a state championship in 2019.
He wanted the Bulldogs to embrace, not shy away, from the concept of frontrunners.
“After we left Murfreesboro last year I felt like we were the team to beat (in 2019),” said Parrott, the 5Star Preps Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“As coaches, the way that we approached this year was ‘embrace that you are the best’ and do not run from that. Every night, for the first 10 minutes, we knew we’d get everybody’s best and that just wears you out. You have to learn how to handle that every single night out.”
Bearden heeded Parrott’s advice and ran with it.
Following a brutal early season schedule where the Bulldogs took their lumps against some of the nation’s top teams, Bearden reeled off 20-consecutive wins to end the season.
Then came the rematch with highly touted Memphis East – this time in the state Class AAA championship game.
Bearden (32-5) rallied from an early deficit against the three-time defending state champion Mustangs and pulled away for a convincing 83-68 victory.
The Bulldogs became the first Knoxville team since Austin-East in 1977 to win the Class AAA title.
Parrott’s game plan for the season worked to perfection.
By season’s end, there was no doubt who was the No. 1 team in Tennessee.
“We played four or five teams this year that were their state champions,” said Parrott, who is 92-17 in three seasons as Bulldogs coach.
“That was all by design. To get through Memphis (teams) in the state tournament we knew we had to be tested.”
There were early season losses to powerhouses Mountain Brook (Ala.), Center Hill (Miss.) and Hamilton Heights.
A big confidence boost came in the championship game of the Arby’s Classic where the Bulldogs edged highly regarded Carmel Christian (N.C.) 61-57.
Bearden last tasted defeat against Southwind (65-60) on Jan. 5.
The Bulldogs’ state championship was also a testimony to the way a collection of star players bought into the team concept, said Parrott.
Featured players Ques Glover, Trent Stephney, Shamarcus Brown, Drew Pember, Roman Robinson and Kordell Kah put personal aspirations aside for the team cause.
“The magic of this team was these guys accepted their roles perfectly, and because they did that they won a state championship,” said Parrott.
“We had (several) guys on our team who could have been leading scorers on other teams or all-state players. This was a great group and a special group. It’s one thing to be favored and one thing to have a goal, but it’s a whole different thing to realize it – and that’s fantastic.”