PARRISH — When a high school basketball program returns three or four starters to their squad after a successful year, expectations tend to be high for the team in their upcoming season.
Returning all five starters from a team that recorded a 21-9 record and advancing to the sub-region championship game however, often means that forthcoming year will having the makings of being something special in the eyes of not only the team’s players and coaches, but also the school’s student body and members of the community.
Such is the case with this year’s sixth-ranked Parrish Tornadoes.
The Tornadoes, after one of their most successful seasons in recent history, are poised to write their own unique chapter to the history of Parrish basketball this year.
The foundation was laid in early 2011 when, beyond many supporters’ expectations, Parrish advanced to the Northwest Regional Tournament Championship game. Though the Tornadoes would come up short in their goal of capturing a region title and making a Final Four appearance, a clear statement was made by the squad during the chilly winter days at Hanceville’s Wallace State College — they had the potential to be contenders for championships.
That potential the young Tornado team showed was observed by current Parrish coach Heath Burns, who took over the program prior to the 2011-12 season, and immediately recognized the upside of the talent base of his new team.
“Parrish has always had quality athletes — and I told my guys when I first arrived that this school has the athletes to win a state championship in every sport,” Burns said. “What our goals are — as a team and as a coaching staff - are to get the experience and execution on the same level with the athleticism and talent. It’s what we strive for during the off season, through practices and on the court on game days.”
Burns, a 15-year coaching veteran, has seen his share of success in building quality programs. In stints at Townley Junior High and Maddox Middle School, he had 311 overall victories and helped mold all-state players such as Tyler Owens and JoJo Walls.
He then spent four years at Dora High School, where in the span of two years, his teams won 59 games, went to the Class 4A Final Four in 2009 and advanced to the Elite Eight in 2010.
Beyond the goal of building a successful basketball program that competes for championships, Burns has also set to the task of making his players into better students and members of the community, stressing accountability in the classroom and good character development as keys to all-around success.
“We want to build champions both on and off the court,” Burns said. “When our guys stay away from harmful influences and make good grades on their tests, it’s a great victory for us as well. We want our young men to be great representatives of Parrish High School.”
The “Fab Five” and the new guys
Parrish’s five returning starters, nicknamed the “Fab Five”, realize that the eyes of their school and the community are on their program.
The five, comprised of senior Brodrick “Paw Paw” Sanders, sophomore Marcus Harris, junior Reginald Harris, junior Jermichael Harris and junior Tyler Sims, understand the role that each plays in the quest for a state championship. While each individual also acknowledges that tough tests await them throughout the season, as well as on the practice court in their efforts to further hone their skills, all five are also enjoying being a part of the rising Parrish program.
“I think this season is going to be great. We have challenges we face everyday in practice and on game days in our effort to get better, because we know we have the makings to make it as far as we all want to go, but we have to continue to work hard at it,” Sanders said.
“The entire team has stepped up their work ethic this year — we all have the same goal and that’s to win a championship,” Jermichael said. “People around the community see that in us as well — we have them come up and tell us that they’re coming to see us play and how excited they are about how this year could be for us. It’s exciting for us too.”
Sims, whose 47.6 percent 3-point shooting average earned him a third place in the state records for a season last year, stated that the closeness of the team has helped with the on-the-court communication, building confidence in the squad and assisting with its overall improvement.
“We believe in each other — we’re like a big family. We enjoy playing together and succeeding together,” Sims said. “Each one of us brings something special to the team and we combine the gifts we have to be the best we can.”
The Tornadoes have also welcomed some new team members this season to help address two aspects they were missing last year: depth and size. Desmond Brown, the team’s sixth man, has enabled Parrish to exploit weaknesses on their opposition this season, as well as providing an additional option on both offense and defense.
Experienced sophomores Chris Evans and Bryant Thomas have become good contributors off of the bench, as well as Isaac Chatman, a 6-4 seventh grader.
The two other newcomers have brought plenty of size to help out in situations where strength and muscle are needed to match up with the opposition’s big men. Senior Miguel Samuels, at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, provides the Tornadoes with an inside presence to offset opponents who tend to dominate the paint. Also raising eyebrows is Barry Hill — a 6-7, 210-pound. soft-spoken junior with a knack of blocking tough shots and providing crowd-pleasing dunks.
“I was really impressed with the tempo and the style of play that coach Burns runs when I first arrived here — it’s really exciting and I have a lot of fun with it,” Hill said. “It’s been great learning how we execute during the game and working together as a team. The guys have been very welcoming to us and we’re proud to be a part of the group”
Reginald Harris said that the returning starters have meshed well with the new arrivals and believes they are key components that will help take the Tornadoes to a higher level.
“It’s an absolute joy to have our new guys around — they've all fit in perfectly,” Reginald said. “We all have learning curves that we have to go through, but they seemed to have just stepped in and picked up what we’re doing since the start — and we've rolled along like they've always been here with us.”
Marcus Harris agreed with the assessment of the new players, calling the new arrivals “what we were missing.”
“We’re definitely a lot stronger of a team with them here — they are giving us additional tools to be a great team, all we have to do is go out and work to be that great team,” Marcus said.