Leaving a Legacy
Hartselle seniors hope to be remembered as ones who turned the basketball program around
It has been eight years since the last time the Hartselle varsity boys basketball team has had a winning season. Since that time the program has had to watch as other Hartselle sports, including football, baseball, softball, volleyball and golf, won championships. However, when current head coach Faron Key was brought into the program in 2014, he set in motion a chain of events that would turn the program around. Now the Tigers are set to possibly achieve their first winning season since 2008-09, among other things, and the team’s four seniors, Isaac Taylor, Kyle Eddy, Seth Garner and Eric Stephenson, are spearheading that campaign.
When the four seniors arrived as freshmen, one year before Key’s arrival, they never would have expected to be where they are now. “I wasn’t even that good at basketball when I was a freshman.” Eddy said, “Baseball was more of my sport.” Stephenson wasn’t even a part of program and Taylor wondered if he had a future in the sport after the first year. “I didn’t know if I wanted to continue playing after my first year.” Taylor said. “But coach (Key) encouraged me to stick with it and I ended being a part of the varsity as a sophomore.”
While Key’s arrival obviously didn’t bring in an overnight fix, it was clear to the players that things were about to change. “Our first summer practice with him we had about five guys late and we had to run for a good thirty minutes.” Taylor said, “We knew then that things were going to be different. He brought his love for the game and it made us love it.” “The first year with him I think we had more wins than we had had in about five years.” Garner said, “You could just see that everyone was getting better.”
It looked as if the Tigers would take a huge step forward as they started the 2015-16 season off strong. However, before Christmas break hit the Tigers suffered the loss of their top two leading rebounders and scorers and all of a sudden were left without any seniors in their starting lineup. From there, the Tigers went on a losing stretch that hit its climax whey were defeated in the opening round of the Morgan County tournament. Instead of letting the wheels fall off completely though, Hartselle used the extended off time to set things back on track. “We just flipped a switch.” Taylor said. “We came into practices with better energy and just started getting better.” The difference between before and after the county tournament was night and day as the Tigers came out playing much better basketball. Their season ended with a loss to the Austin Black Bears in the area tournament, but instead of the blowouts that they had suffered in the regular season, the Tigers put up a much better fight which gave them the confidence they needed heading into the offseason.
“We ended the season good last year and we carried that into the offseason.” Eddy said. “We returned our entire starting five so we were excited about that.”
“The summer was good for us because we participated in a lot of play dates with some good teams and we saw that we could play with them.” Stephenson said.
Seeing the girl’s basketball team, who made a magical run to the state tournament; have success also helped light a fire for the boy’s team. “ We saw what the girls were doing and that made us excited too. We were tired of them having all the fun.” Garner said with a smile stretched across his face.
While the seniors focused on making a big splash for this season, they also helped ensure that the future of the program would be great as well. The high school basketball players helped run basketball camps at the high school for younger players. Camps that saw significant turn outs. “Hartselle basketball doesn’t end with us.” Eddy said. “ So being able to help with them is a great experience because we know were helping the future. “
“It’s also cool because I remember when that was us coming to camps and now were the guys that these kids look up to.” Stephenson said.
While the program still has plenty of work to do, the changes that have been made are clear to all those that have attended games. The Tigers have secured big wins, including a 101-90 triple overtime win over Athens, and have set themselves up as the favorite to win the county tournament. The next step for them is finishing out big games. In the Hartselle’s biggest game of the season, the Tiger’s had defending state champions Homewood on the ropes before ultimately falling 53-50 in overtime. “When we lose to a tough team close it makes us want to close out big games like good teams do.” Taylor said. “It makes us want to fix our mistakes.”
The four seniors hope that this season is a sign of big things to come for Hartselle basketball, and they hope that maybe they’ll be remembered as the team that turned everything around. “I would like to be remembered as the guys that turned it around.” Eddy said. “Hopefully people will remember all the hard work we put into it.”
“Coach always says to outwork, outhustle and outlast everybody.” Stephenson said. “I think it would be good to be remembered as the group that wasn’t going to just roll over and be the ones that were just going to fight until the end.”