Photo: Shelton State freshman and Hokes Bluff High graduate Kendall Johnson (left) battles Gulf Coast State’s Dominique Banks during the NJCAA women’s basketball tournament this past week in Lubbock, Tex. (Courtesy of Shelton State athletics)
By Chris McCarthy
A couple of former high school basketball from Eto-wah County made a name for themselves during the past month in the college ranks.
2017 Hokes Bluff High graduate and Shelton State freshman Kendall Johnson and 2016 Gadsden City High School graduate and Snead State sophomore Jacob Hyde helped their respective teams to Alabama Community College Conference basketball championships.
With Hyde starting at guard, the Parsons went 25-8 this past season and 4-0 in the ACCC Tournament earlier this month at Lawson State in Birmingham. Hyde averaged 8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists along with 30 steals and 23 blocks.
Entering the state tournament as the North No. 1 seed, the Parsons received a bye before facing Gadsden State in the quarterfinals. After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first half, the Cardinals rallied to force overtime, but Snead State held off Gadsden State for an 83-81 win.
The Parsons then dispatched Marion Military, 7-0-60, in the semifinals before defeating Coastal Alabama North, 90-83, to win the program’s first state title since the 1989-90 season.
“[Winning a state title] something that I’ve never experienced or been a part of, so it was really special,” said Hyde. “It was a great season because the whole team bought in and made sacrifices and did what we needed to do. We were unselfish and didn’t care about [individual] stats. We were never the most talented [team], but we stuck together and always found a way to win.”
In Snead State’s three games against Gadsden State, Hyde competed against his old backcourt mate at Gadsden City, Shond McKinney.
“That was fun, because you’re playing against guys you’ve played with your whole life,” said Hyde. “You always want to beat them, but you’re still friends.”
Snead State traveled to Hutchinson, Kansas, for the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament, where the Parsons fell to Southern Idaho, 119-82, on March 19 in the first round.
“We didn’t expect to get beat like we did, but either way, it was a great experience,” said Hyde.
In his senior year of 2015-16, Hyde helped the Titans to a 24-8 record, win an area title and reach the championship game of the Northeast Regional Tournament.
Hyde said his biggest hurdle to overcome from high school to junior college basketball was the mental cha-llenge of a longer season with more games.
“There wasn’t much to take your mind off basketball, so it was a mental grind all season. I wasn’t really used to that, so there were a few stressful spots during the season. But in the end, it was worth it.”
Hyde currently is mulling offers from four-year schools including Miles Co-llege in Birmingham, the University of Mobile and Pikeville University in Kentucky. He hasn’t yet decided a field of study but is considering physical therapy.
“Jacob brought a lot to the team because he could do several things on court,” said Snead State men’s basketball head coach Jeremiah Patterson. “For example, he didn’t play point guard but he filled that role at times because he’s so versatile.”
Patterson noted that Hyde’s character contributed to the Parsons’ success this past season.
“Before [Hyde] came here, we were not good at all. Along with Jacob, we were able to bring in several other guys didn’t like to lose and were going to work hard. A lot of those guys weren’t highly recruited but had good attitudes and came from [high school] programs that were successful. I think that really changed our program around and was a big part of our success.”
Johnson, who started seven games at center and averaged 15 minutes of playing time for Shelton State, contributed 3.4 points and 3.1 rebounds this past season while shooting 73 percent at the free throw line. She also had 17 steals, 15 assists and eight blocks.
After finishing the regular season as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, Shelton State opened the ACCC Tournament with a 72-51 win over Lawson State. The Lady Bucs then posted a 110-61 semifinal victory over Gadsden State, followed by a 73-66 victory over Chattahoochee Valley in the championship game. It was the third straight ACCC state title for the Lady Bucs and their 10th in the past 12 years.
“It’s been a really special year, and in a few years, I’ll probably look back and appreciate it even more,” said Johnson. “To be able to say I’m getting a [state championship] ring is really cool. Coming from a really successful basketball team in high school to an incredibly successful team is college is really something.”
After winning their Alabama crown, Johnson and her teammates traveled to Lubbock, Tex., a few weeks ago for the NJCAA Tournament. Shelton State beat Odessa (Tex.), 81-57, and New Mexico Junior College, 90-79, before falling to Trinity Valley, 65-63, in overtime in the semifinals. Shelton State rebounded with a 98-64 win over Gulf Coast State in the third-place game.
It was the third straight season that the Lady Bucs reached the Final Four and was No. 3 in the country. Shelton State finished with a 35-1 record.
“The atmosphere (at the national tournament) was incredible,” said Johnson. “The adrenaline was pumping as soon as you walked in, and you knew that you were there play and to win. Being there with all your friends made it that much more hyped up and exciting. It’s definitely something that I want to do again.”
Johnson pointed to the physical aspect of the junior college game as her biggest adjustment from high school.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re playing DI or DIII, the physicality of the game is at another level. There’s a lot of contact, and you’ve got to deal with it and push through it. I definitely had to climb higher mountains to get to that point.”
In the ACCC semifinals, Johnson went up against Gadsden State’s Kelsey Patterson, a 2017 Southside High graduate.
“It was fun and it brought back a lot of memories” said Johnson. “I love Kelsey; she’s a great player and a great person. But she’s from Southside and I’m from Hokes Bluff, so it’s always competitive with us.”
Johnson, whose goal is to become an environmental engineer, plans on attending a four-year school after she graduates from Shelton State. She will remain in Tuscaloosa this summer to take a few classes while staying in shape for the 2018-19 basketball season.
“I would love to able to help a community and a city to become cleaner and to for people’s live to be healthier,” she said. “That’s something that I’m really passionate about.”
Johnson won 122 games in her five seasons on the Hokes Bluff varsity.
Following her senior year she was named the MVP of the All-Etowah County Schools girls basketball team after averaging 14 points and eight rebounds while helping the Lady Eagles finish 25-5, win the county and area tournaments and qualify for the Class 4A Northeast Regional Tournament for the fourth time in three years. A four-year starter for Jason Shields, Johnson finished her prep career with 1,083 points. She played in the North/South All-Star girls basketball game in the summer prior to her senior year.
“Kendall’s overall skill level was pretty good around the basket when she came in with is; we just had to get her in really good shape,” said Shelton State women’s head coach Madonna Thompson. “She’s toned up and she’s improved every day since she’s been here and has been able to come in and contribute quite a bit.”
Johnson started several games in place of starting center Ashley Scott, who suffered a broken hand just prior to conference play in early January. Scott was sidelined for six weeks, giving Johnson an opportunity to showcase her skills.
“Kendall really had to step up, and she did,” said Thompson. “She pulled her load and did what she needed to do until we got Ashley back.”
Thompson said that the combination of Johnson coming from a successful high school program and being mentored by a demanding coach in Shields was great preparation for the junior college game.
“I’ve found that if I get kids from winning program and from a coach with high expectations and discipline, the transition to [college basketball] is way easier. My relationship with those types of girls is a better. I’ve chewed out Kendall’s butt just like I would any of my players, and she handled it fine, because she’s used to it.
“I haven’t had any conflict with Kendall at all, both on and off the floor. She’s done well academically and is a great kid who gets along with everyone on the team. I think she’s really grown both as a player and a person since she’s been here.”