Editor’s note: Bearden’s boys basketball team won the school’s first ever state championship on March 16 when the Bulldogs beat Memphis East 83-68.
The Bark sports staff has spent the past week interviewing all six seniors and Coach Jeremy Parrott about their experiences in Murfreesboro for the state tournament, and we have let them tell the story of their championship week in their own words.
We hope you enjoy reflecting on their journey as much as we enjoyed conducting these interviews and hearing their candid and willing retellings of their stories.
Tues., March 12: Bearden takes a bus to Murfreesboro and spends the first night on the road before state tournament games start Wednesday.
Senior forward Drew Pember: “[The bus ride] was definitely more on the fun side. Since we had gone the last two years, I don’t think anyone was really nervous. We’re a fun group of guys; we like to goof around. Everyone was goofing around, joking.”
Senior forward Kordell Kah: “No one was really trying to think about the game. So it was more fun – we were goofing off. There wasn’t even a lot of sleeping because it was pretty early in the day.”
Senior guard Ques Glover: “It felt normal, riding up on the bus, because we ride busses everywhere so all we did was crack jokes the whole time, slept, and listened to music. We didn’t try to change anything, we did everything the same.”
Coach Jeremy Parrott: “That’s a whole group effort right there, trying to get the guys with their rooms and settled in their rooms and making sure everyone’s rooms are good. We always stay on the top floor. Anywhere we ever go, we always stay on the top floor so we’re just making sure everything is good there and getting everything set up for the food. We keep them fed all the time, making sure the snacks are in the hallway, making sure we got the meals taken care of.”
Glover: “We went to Mississippi, Memphis, Arby’s, so we had three hotels we stayed in this year. The hardest part [of staying in hotels] is probably getting some rest at night because you’re rooming with all your friends, playing video games, so that’s the hard part.”
Senior guard Trent Stephney: “The night before, in my room it was me, Drew, and Isaiah [Bredwood], and we played a little Call of Duty one-on-one.”
Glover: “Shaq [is the best gamer on the team]. He plays every day. … It kind of took off the stress really, because if you just sit in the room thinking about the game, you’re going to be stressed out. If you’re chilling with your friends, you’ll be fine.”
Wednesday, March 13: Bearden plays Franklin in a quarterfinal at 6 p.m. local time.
Pember: “We woke up, had a practice that afternoon, had lunch right afterwards, went to the gym a few hours early just to watch the other teams play, and got ready for the game.”
Kah: “We had a practice before the game. We didn’t play until 6, so we had a lot of time to get ready. We went to a local rec center and got some good practice in, had fun, and got a little more team bonding in.”
Stephney: “We went and shot, and we were trying to get warm before we shot on the goals at MTSU because we don’t have the same type of rims as the college. We just tried to get set, and we came back to the room and rested for a little bit and get ready for the game against Franklin.”
Glover: “I feel like the arena was kind of messing with us because playing in that kind of arena, your measurements on your shots are a little different because it’s a different atmosphere in there. Us not making shots early kind of bothered us, and they were making shots so that kind of slowed us down.”
Kah: “That’s just what happens to us sometimes if you look at the way we have played. In our last three seasons, we have rough first halves shooting wise. They had a couple players that shoot nowhere near that, and just went off. They had a post that had three threes that probably has 10 threes on the season.”
Senior post Shamarcus Brown: “We weren’t closing in on the 3-point shooters enough, and they had a couple of iffy calls on the charges and blocks and stuff like that so we just had to fight back in the second half. [Coach Parrott] didn’t want us to worry about their one-three-one defense too much. He just wanted us to lock in and stay calm and fight through it.”
Halftime: Franklin 21, Bearden 19. Bearden then outscored Franklin 27-2 in the third quarter.
Coach Parrott: “You can’t win the state tournament without winning the first game, so you’re always worried there and after 16 minutes of lackluster, slow basketball, it was time to play Bearden brand. So for the next 16 minutes, we made sure we were going to be around for round two.”
Glover: “[Coach Parrott] was like ‘Guys, if we’re going to lose, we’re going to go out running,’ and then we came out and started pressing, and then we kind of made a run. I feel like we stepped up the intensity because this year we didn’t really press a lot of people, so when they went back and watched film, I feel like they didn’t have any film to watch of us pressing.”
Kah: “We like to wait to press until the second half. If we press at the end of the first half and really start to dog them, they can go into halftime and make adjustments and it really messes with our press. If they make good adjustments, it is harder to press. They didn’t really adjust well.”
Final score: Bearden 76, Franklin 46.
Pember: “That night, it was a big win so we celebrated, but we had bigger thoughts on our mind. Of course, it’s fun to celebrate, but it wasn’t the big goal we had in mind, so we had to stay focused.”
Thursday, March 14: Bearden has an off day to begin preparing to take on four-star recruiting prospect Matthew Murrell, 7-foot-4 Jordan Wilmore, and the Whitehaven Tigers.
Glover: “We practiced in a rec center up the street from the hotel. We practiced for about an hour and 30 minutes, shot for a minute cause we were trying to shoot some of the kinks out from the first game, and then for the last 45 minutes, we went over Whitehaven stuff.”
Pember: “We spent most of Thursday prepping, watching film and stuff like that so we knew what was ahead of us.”
Glover: “They had a 7-4 guy, they had a four-star named Matt Murrell and he’s a great player, he has a lot of offers. I knew that going against him our guards would have to play big and that was a really good game for us.”
Kah: “Our biggest approach was [Murrell]. We knew [Wilmore] wouldn’t be our biggest problem.”
Friday, March 15: Bearden plays Whitehaven in a semifinal at 1:15 p.m. local time. Coach Parrott gives a pre-game speech about nerves that eventually goes viral on social media.
Coach Parrott: “They never have been a nervous or pensive group before they play, but I felt a sense that they were that day for some reason. I don’t know what it was. I just thought, you know, this is not life and death; this is not something we really need to fret over. It is just basketball, and I just wanted to remind them that they are very good at basketball, and this next 32 minutes was going to be fine as long as they worried about the process and not the results.”
Kah: “I feel like his speech helped us because it puts things into perspective. It’s what we do every day. It’s what we are good at. It’s what we practice doing. It’s playing basketball.”
Glover: “We had to bring our A-Game because I knew they were a great team. I feel like going into the game Whitehaven overlooked us, and we had a little chip on our shoulder because of that.”
Pember: “I had played against guys that are taller than me, but not as tall as [Wilmore], but I’ve never been the type of person to get intimidated by someone’s size. Shaq did a phenomenal job with him and got him like two fouls in the first few minutes. Memphis teams are more physical, but we’ve been half way across the country preparing for this, so it was nothing new. We just went out and hooped.”
Brown: “I just wanted to go in the game and try and get in [Wilmore’s] head, get fouls early and just get him frustrated.”
Halftime: Bearden 41, Whitehaven 28. Whitehaven closes the half on an 8-0 run.
Stephney: “It kind of gave them momentum, and it made it seem like they were back in the game and it made them push harder.”
Kah: “We had Trent get Murrell and just dog him the whole game, which ended up being the perfect game plan. I think that was Trent’s best defensive game of the year. So we shut him down. That made the entire team shut down. … Trent started out the half with defensive pressure. Watching him do that and helping us get turnovers and our hot shooting fuels us.”
Pember: “[Stephney] definitely takes it more on the personal side to show what he can do and that was probably the best defensive performance I’ve seen out of Trent in my entire life. He did a phenomenal job. I had never seen anything like that, and a lot of guys I think were kind of timid because that was where we got knocked out last year, but I think we were just ultra-focused on winning, and that was probably the best defensive game we had for a long time.”
Final score: Bearden 76, Whitehaven 60. Bearden stays at the arena to watch Memphis East beat Brentwood 46-42 in the other semifinal.
Kah: “We had beat a Memphis team, so we had earned half respect in Memphis. We wanted Memphis East to win, because we wanted our revenge against them.”
Glover: “Watching [Memphis East] play Brentwood kind of gave me a little confidence that we could really beat them because Brentwood didn’t really have the athleticism that we had and size that we had, but they did a pretty good job on them. That gave us confidence watching that game, and it kind of helped us.”
Pember: “That night was fun because we celebrated, but then we just watched film that night of East vs Whitehaven, so we just focused on [James] Wiseman and talked about what we were going to do and [Coach Parrott] just said if we did what we were supposed to do, then we’d come out with a win.”
Kah: “This is the last game I’ll ever play for Bearden, win or lose. That’s what really got me the night before. Win or lose, this is going to be rough. It’s kind of hard to put into words. You kind of have to feel that yourself. It’s not like your birthday is tomorrow; it’s not like Christmas is tomorrow. It is like something’s coming, and you can’t stop it but you want to be a part of it.”
Saturday, March 16: Bearden plays Memphis East in the state championship game at 3:30 p.m. local time.
Brown: “I knew [James Wiseman] was the number one player in the nation, but I like to get in people’s heads so he had to play me too. I wasn’t too intimidated. My dad called me and he was like, ‘You put your pants on like he does. He’s human too and can make mistakes.’”
Glover: “When we woke up, Shaq said ‘I’m the number one undersized center in the nation,’ so he had a little confidence going into the game, and it helped him.”
Pember: “We had Chick-Fil-A which was nice, got some chicken minis. But all the guys just ate, listened to music, got ready for the game, goofed around because we can’t not goof around. But I think once we got on the bus, that was when everyone started to get ready for the game and walking into the gym was a wake-up call – like we are here and this is what we’ve worked for all year.”
Kah: “It was a lot more serious. We knew we had one shot at this. This is our last shot. If we lose, we are going to be devastated. We knew this is what we needed to do to be remembered. We had done everything to this point besides win a championship. So we knew we had to finish this. … [Memphis East] shot incredible first quarter. [Wiseman] started off on pace for 45 or 50.”
End of first quarter: Memphis East 19, Bearden 10.
Glover: “In the huddle, Coach was like, ‘Keep it close; we’re going to make changes at halftime,’ and I think going into that second quarter, we did a good job of keeping it close, and then it kind of gave us confidence going into halftime.”
Pember: “After Ques hit that 3 [to end the first half], it felt like we were down the whole game, but then now we were up by one. Going into the locker room, we were like, ‘We have a chance to win this game.'”
Halftime: Bearden 32, Memphis East 31.
Coach Parrott: “I felt pretty good. Even though we had battled back to the one-point lead, I felt pretty good because I knew we had some things we were going to change up defensively, which is something we always do in the second half against opponents.”
Kah: “In the second half, we are feeling good, defending well, we were taking care of the number one player in the world.”
Pember: “We switched up the match-ups a lot. I was in foul trouble; Shaq was too. Kordell did a good job of helping with [Wiseman] – the number one player in the country for a good reason – but we put more of a focus on him and kind of slowed him down.”
Glover: “When we were up a little in the third quarter, I was like, ‘We can really do this,’ and James Wiseman got in foul trouble. He had to sit out. That gave us confidence to go in the paint since he wasn’t down there, so that was big for us.”
Senior forward Roman Robinson: “Hitting a three against Memphis East was kind of the biggest game changer. They were coming back and we had a run; they made their run.”
End of third quarter: Bearden 51, Memphis East 45.
Stephney: “We were just smiling out there. We were all just smiling at each other, and we were talking at the free throw line and stuff. … When I was shooting a free throw, I remember Ques was like, ‘You ready?’ and I was like ‘Ready for what?’ And he said ‘This beach trip!’”
Kah: “At that point, I am on the bench, and I am celebrating in myself. And then I get put on the court with a minute left, and at that point the game is pretty much over and it is just fun to be out there. There was some celebrating on the court in that last minute. Talking to each other and saying how crazy it is. It doesn’t really click until the buzzer sounds. It’s hard to describe that one.”
Final: Bearden 83, Memphis East 68.
Pember: “It was surreal, like everyone rushed the court, and I got like three guys jumping on me; it was just crazy looking back at the pictures people captured of just pure joy.”
Glover: “It was like a feeling of relief. I feel like I haven’t really had that feeling of ‘I’m a state champion’ and we are state champions, but I don’t really have that feeling yet.”
Robinson: “We’ve wanted this since sophomore year. The feeling is still unbelievable.”
Brown: “It was a crazy atmosphere. We were like throwing water bottles and everything. I felt like I was dreaming to be honest. I kept pinching myself.”
Stephney: “It’s amazing. We just got so excited. We got the drip on our fingers from our rings and the hats, and it’s just amazing how we’re going to have this stuff to remember 20 years later.”
Kah: “It was a very emotional thing. It hit me that we won, and we did what no one’s ever done. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for the past six or seven years. But it also hit me that’s the last game I’m going to play with these guys. I was the one who said let’s retake [the picture that we took when we were freshmen]. We had talked about it ever since they put that picture out. We talked about going and doing it at practice, but we never got to it. And then I was sitting in the locker room, and it was just me and Roman of the seniors. And we were talking and crying. I was thinking, ‘This is the last time we were gonna be together.’ Which made me think about it, and I was like, ‘Let’s go recreate this.’ Cause that shows our journey. It was an emotional thing too.”
Coach Parrott: “It was really neat to see them genuinely smile. We all fake smile, but then there’s those moments where we have pictures in our lives where our smiles are big and are real. It was awesome. You saw Shaq start to break down, and those are real emotions. I began to see that I really started to understand what it meant. As the days pass, it will probably set into me more about what it meant to Bearden when we look back.”
Andrew Peters, Ansley Pacetti, Jared Langford, and Logan Mize conducted the interviews. The Bark would like to offer a special thank you to Tammy Kregel for allowing us to use her photography.