BY MIKE BLACKERBY
Jennifer Sullivan’s high school basketball career was a study of transition, evolution and ultimately success at the highest level.
Early on, the 5Star Preps Girls Basketball Player of the Year had a score-first mentality at The King’s Academy before transferring to Bearden as a junior.
Sullivan developed into one of the state’s top all-around players at Bearden where she helped lead the Lady Bulldogs to the state 4A championship this past season.
Between her junior and senior seasons, the 5-foot-8 guard also transformed her body.
She worked with a nutritionist and got into the best shape possible as Bearden pointed to perhaps a special 2021-22 high school season.
All of the hard work and preparation paid off for Sullivan and the Lady Bulldogs.
Bearden stormed to the state 4A championship – the first in program history – with a 52-34 win over rival Farragut in the finals in March at Middle Tennessee State.
The Lady Bulldogs won their three state tournament games by convincing margins of 22, 19 and 18 points.
Bearden finished 36-3 and won its last 22 games in a row.
And oh yeah, Sullivan was named Miss Basketball in 4A.
Dream season complete.
“We had the perfect combination of kids who were unselfish kids,” said Bearden coach Justin Underwood.
“Before she (Sullivan) came to us we knew she could score, and score in bunches.”
Underwood asked Sullivan to expand her game and the Tennessee Tech signee obliged in every phase.
“What made us so much better was her ability to score, set up teammates, rebound and take charges,” said Underwood.
“All of those pieces made her such a vital member of our team this season.”
Sullivan said it took a few games early in the season for her to realize what she needed to do.
“I wasn’t sure what my role was the first couple of games,” said Sullivan.
“Once I kind of figured out what (Underwood) needed from me it really helped.”
Sullivan admitted the transition from scorer at King’s Academy to all-around player at Bearden took a while to get used to.
“Honestly, it was a little difficult at the beginning,” she said.
“In the long run, it really helped me out. We had multiple people on the team who could go out and get 20 (points) on any night. I think that was what separated our team.”
Sullivan still managed to dust off her scorer’s mentality when needed last season.
She averaged 15.2 points while handing out 5.6 assists and grabbing 4.3 rebounds a game.
“This year (Sullivan) was more assertive,” said Underwood.
“She had the ability to know when it was time to score or time to set somebody else up – that’s elite.”
Sullivan said the wheels were set in motion for a senior season to remember after a upset loss to Hardin County in the first round of the 2020-21 state tournament.
Bearden came into that game with a 30-1 record.
The loss stung, but it turned out to be perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the Lady Bulldogs.
Sullivan said she knew she had to do her part by getting in better shape.
“Last year, at the end of the year, I started seeing a nutritionist,” she explained.
“That was a game changer for me. My mom helped me out a lot by buying healthier food.”
Underwood said the discipline Sullivan showed was remarkable.
“She made it a point to change herself,” he said.
“She transformed herself and got much more muscular. She came with a laser-sharp focus this year and did everything in her power to make sure she was absolutely the best version of herself.”
In the end, it all paid off.
“To be able to end your senior year like that,” said Underwood, “was pretty storybook.”