The Enterprise Wildcats made it to the state basketball championship for the first time in school history this season but just getting there isn’t enough for head coach Rhett Harrelson and his players.
Despite the disappointment and heartbreak of losing in the championship game, Harrelson pointed to the successes his team found this year.
“We got the most out of our guys and they gave us everything they had,” Harrelson said. “It was really rewarding for us to know all of the hard work that the guys put in – and that we put in as a coaching staff – paid off.
“We played in the state championship game and had chances to win it. It was a special year, a fun year with a great group of kids that are fun to be around and have great personalities. They’re good kids and are coachable and I think that goes into how successful we were able to be this year.”
Harrelson said his seniors were pivotal to the success of the 2021 Wildcats.
“I can’t say enough good things about this group of seniors and how impactful and influential they were on the success of our team this year,” he emphasized.
Harrelson called Jalen Cunningham the “engine” that made the Wildcats go.
“You look at his numbers and they don’t even come close to reflecting how much he meant to our team,” Harrelson said of Cunningham. “He was our toughness, he was our engine. He was the one that made our team go and set the tone for us defensively. He’s just an absolute warrior.”
Harrelson also pointed to Josh McCray and Jared Smith – two athletes that will be playing college football – as two of the better athletes in the program.
“What (Josh) was able to do in the Final Four there is no way around it, the dude is just a gamer,” Harrelson said. “He is an unbelievable competitor and an unbelievable athlete. He’s going to be so tough to replace.
“Jared Smith is an unbelievable athlete and the fastest kid in the school. We asked him this year to guard the other team’s best players for about 3/4 of the season and he took on that role and that challenge and did a really, really great job of it.”
While Jay Sconiers and Justin Winters may have not seen the playing time that the other seniors did, Harrelson said their contributions were big nonetheless.
“Jay Sconiers is a kid that worked his way all the way up from playing on the freshman team to the JV and then to the varsity team,” Harrelson said. “He’s a great kid that did everything we asked him to do. He didn’t get to play as many minutes as he would have liked to this year but he was willing to do anything we needed him to do for the team.
“Justin also didn’t get to play as many minutes for us as a senior as he probably wanted to but he is a staple of what it means to be a Wildcat. He was always on time, always there every single day and he handled his business in the classroom and out of it. He also played some big minutes for us during the year and played in the state championship. He is an unbelievable kid that wants to go into engineering. He has a super bright future ahead of him.”
Harrelson also noted that his newest additions to the EHS coaching staff – John Wadsworth and Allen Catrett – were invaluable to the success of the team. Both are former head varsity coaches at other schools and Harrelson said that the knowledge they shared with him and the entire team benefited the program throughout the year.
Despite losing a talented senior class, the Wildcats also return a number of veteran underclassmen to a group that wants to make sure that trips to the Final Four become the norm rather than history.
“We met yesterday and it was rough, we were all tired from getting back, but we kind of just got together and talked,” Harrelson said. “We said we made it to the highest level in playing in a state championship but we want this to be the standard. We don’t want it to be a one hit wonder sort of thing.
“We have to stay in the gym and continue to work on our skills (in the offseason). It’s not easy getting back and we will have targets on our backs next year. It will take the same work we put in this year and then some to get back and try to finish this thing next year.”