After his Rebels swept the Three Rivers Conference and District 1-AA championships, along with collecting a school-record 30 wins and qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in program history, McMeans was named the Kingsport Times News / Johnson City Press All-Northeast Tennessee boys basketball coach of the year.
After a TSSAA ruling earlier in the week, the Rebels have faint hopes the state tournament could be rescheduled and they will get a shot to finish their season. However it works out, McMeans and company can look back at a season of unprecedented success.
“There were goals we set early in the year returning six seniors. We knew we had a shot at them,” McMeans said. “We wanted to win the conference first and foremost. We talked about South hadn’t won a district tournament in 36 years. We talked about South never going to the state tournament and the all-time wins record.
“Then, it was amazing to get to 30 wins. Most people say if you get to 20, you’ve had a really good year. Thirty, we talked about how special that would be. They embraced that and took on every challenge we had. They accomplished every goal we set out to accomplish.”
McMeans isn’t a coach to wait to the end of the season and reflect. He is a coach who believes in enjoying every step of the journey. He and assistant coaches Justin Humphries and Clay Potter allowed the team to fully celebrate every important milestone.
“I’ve always taken the approach to enjoy the moment. Those things aren’t easy to do,” McMeans said. “The four years I’ve been at South, there has been a different team winning the conference every year. We’re talking about 15-18-year-old kids and I think you should celebrate.”
A 63-61 double-overtime win over Elizabethton in the District 1-AA final and a sectional win at Alcoa were particularly gratifying. For the district championship, all the Sullivan County schools combined to support the Rebels.
“We had a big following and the Dyer Dome was packed that night,” McMeans said. “That moment was special and they thought, ‘How does it get any bigger than this?’ We win at Alcoa and it hits them that we did something that had never been done.
“We really celebrated after the game, took them out for pizza and hung out for a while. You’re not talking about a professional sports team but 15-18-year-old kids — and it’s important for them.”
The team featured six seniors, led by All-NET player of the year Ben Diamond and first-team selection Cole Layne.
McMeans had coached them along with Gannon Chase, Cam Necessary and Caleb Lay since the sixth grade. Parker Wilmoth, who also played under McMeans at Colonial Heights Middle School, rejoined the group prior to his senior season.
The junior class included Nick Ellege, Aaron Holmes and Colton Mullins. Sophomores were Cooper Johnson, Ethan Bergeron and Jackson Dean with freshmen Drew Hoover, Creed Musick and Will Harris completing the roster.
While they were talented, the coach said it was the work ethic and attitude which set them apart.
“This bunch is never afraid to work. I’m talking about going back into the summer,” McMeans said. “We were on the track some days and it was 90-some degrees outside. They were running, conditioning, lifting weights. A lot of kids would complain about that, but this bunch was hungry. They really enjoyed being around each other, which for me was a lot of fun.”
He added they have been a coach’s dream with no bad attitudes and no big issues about playing time. Obviously, some would have liked bigger roles, but they sacrificed personal goals for the betterment of the team.
“Everybody kept each other’s spirits up and it’s so much fun coaching kids like that,” McMeans said. “There weren’t all the attitudes, all the drama, that wasn’t a part of who we were. They also supported each other and everything was easy all year.”