When Ty Greene, Rico White, and a few of their other former teammates walked back onto Bearden’s campus in the summer of 2015, Greene had just been named the country’s Mid-Major Player of the Year and White had just finished his senior year of college as the composed, savvy floor general for 22-10 Chattanooga.
They probably had a hint even then that this group of scrawny, soon-to-be Bearden freshmen they were scrimmaging against would one day compete with Greene and White’s Class of 2011 for the best Bulldog team ever.
The now-seniors that Greene and White scrimmaged against four years ago are on the way to their third straight state tournament, and if they win a title in Murfreesboro, they’ll surpass the Class of 2011 as the best to ever play at Bearden.
Bearden fell just short of winning the school’s first state championship in 2011, losing to Craigmont in the finals. No other team, including this class, has ever made it to the finals.
This year’s seniors made it to the quarterfinals as sophomores, semifinals as juniors, and they play their first state game as seniors Wednesday at 6 p.m. Central against Franklin (28-6) at MTSU’s Murphy Center.
“We’ve been compared to (the 2011 team) because everyone expected us to be as successful as them, if not beat them,” senior Kordell Kah said. “We’ve lived up to that somewhat; we still haven’t made it as far as they did.
“They’ve always been what we’ve wanted to beat. As much as we respect them, we’ve always wanted to take that away from them as the most successful team at Bearden.”
The 2011 Bearden boys basketball team had a record of 35-3, made it all the way to the state finals, and sent five seniors – Greene, White, Dion Fair, Spencer Peake, and Will Winton – to play college basketball.
White said this year’s team seems to have many of the strengths that he and his classmates had. They’ve piled up just as many wins, as many state tournament appearances, and could even send as many as six players on to college athletics (although two of those may be to play football).
Those aren’t the similarities that matter most to White, though.
“I see a lot of similarities, one being they have had the opportunity to play with each other for multiple years and also be close off of the court,” White said. “Their relationship and togetherness off the court is similar to my class.
“That’s something that helps Bearden win close games whenever that situation is presented.”
White is now an assistant coach for Gardner-Webb, which clinched its first NCAA Tournament berth in school history on Sunday.
Having a senior-heavy team is a similarity between the two teams, and Greene said the seniors this year share a similar bond that his team had.
“They all genuinely like each other and want everyone to succeed,” Greene said. “That is key for team chemistry when it comes to a team with a lot of really good players.”
Greene played college basketball for South Carolina Upstate, where he was named the 2015 Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year and Mid-Major Player of the Year. Greene had a short career in the NBA Development League and now works for Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Bearden’s senior class this year is familiar with members of the 2011 team – not only because of the legacy they left behind, but also because of those scrimmages in 2015 that now seem to have been a prophetic passing of the torch.
“We all wanted to win a state championship for Bearden so bad, but unfortunately we came up a little short,” White said. “So we all kind of took on the responsibility of helping to bring them along so this senior class would be the ones to win a state title.
“We just wanted to follow along with the tradition of the great players before my senior class to come back and do their duty to help continue the success of the program.”
Senior point guard and leading scorer Ques Glover believes having former players scrimmage with the team played a large part in their early player development.
“Being able to compete against them was really big for us,” Glover said. “They were showing us different strengths, different styles of play, so that was big for us.”
From scrimmaging against the former players, Kah learned not only about basketball, but about work ethic and life.
“Their connections with the team and being around has always shown us that it’s more than basketball – it’s a community,” Kah said. “It also showed us what we needed to be and where we needed to get.”
Like this year’s team, the Class of 2011 had made two runs to the state tournament before their senior year, and Greene said this team’s experience will help them this year just as much as it helped his team in 2011.
“We took a step every year in the state tournament,” Greene said. “Those experiences help so much when you are trying to win the whole thing.
“This team is tested and ready.”
Even before the first game of the state tournament tips off, this class has surely already cemented its legacy as one of the two greatest in school history, but they will hope to add one more item to their résumé this week.
“Our legacy is already pretty strong,” Kah said. “We’ve played on a national stage, secured our rankings, made it to state three years in a row, so we’ve already left our legacy.
“But obviously we want that gold ball.”