BOAZ, Ala. – A week into the offseason, as the 2022-2023 Snead State Men’s Basketball team began its first round of practice sessions, Parsons Head Coach Jeremiah Patterson saw the potential for greatness.
“I just had a good feeling that this group of guys had a chance to be special,” Patterson said. “Everyone practiced hard, competed hard. Really showed they were unselfish. Hated losing – like me, they took it personally. But they also focused on the little things. And that’s what I always tell my teams. When you focus on the little things, play unselfishly, everything else will come.
“It’s the little things that separate good teams from the great teams.”
Patterson’s vision came to fruition, as the Parsons (25-9, 15-7) went on a historic run to capture the program’s second ACCC Championship in five years and earn a berth to play in the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
The accomplishment was quite the feat, as Patterson only had two players that returned from the 2021-2022 squad, and those players did not have much experience on the collegiate level.
After jumping out to a 5-0 start to the season, the Parsons entered conference play and had its fair share of ups and downs. Patterson attributed a portion of the early inconsistency to the difficulty of the ACCC.
“In my seven years of coaching at Snead State, I’ve never seen the ACCC so good from top to bottom,” he said. “Any night, no matter the other team’s record, you were at risk of getting beat.”
But, at 10-6 in conference play, the Parsons hit their stride at the right time – something Patterson said last year’s team wasn’t able to do – and won five of the last six regular season games to lock up a No. 2-seed in the ACCC Tournament.
“I’m not really sure how we did it,” he said. “I wish I did. I wish I had a formula. But we did the same things all year, with the exception of making a few tweaks here and there.”
Snead State defeated Chattahoochee Valley 67-59 in Round One of the ACCC Championship Tournament before advancing to take on Shelton State in the semifinals. In years past, Patterson said, Shelton State has been a proverbial thorn in the Parsons’ side. Over the last six years, Shelton State had won five ACCC titles and Snead State had won one.
“In my first year, we faced Shelton in the semifinals and lost by five,” Patterson said. “Shelton went on to win the ACCC title that year by 25 points in the championship game. So, we felt like had we pulled that one out, we could’ve won it.
“We didn’t have to play them en route to 2018 ACCC title,” he said. “But we met again in the 2020 ACCC Finals and lost 72-68. So, when we faced them in this year’s semifinals, we were locked in, and we wanted it really bad.”
And the Parsons focus paid off, as they whipped Shelton State 88-67 to advance to the ACCC Championship. Snead State went on to defeat Coastal Alabama-South 83-80 in overtime to capture ACCC Championship.
With the ACCC title victory, Patterson was awarded the 2023 ACCC Coach of the Year Award and also recognized as the 2023 NJCAA South District Coach of the Year. The team earned its fifth berth in program history to the NJCAA Division I Men’s Tournament Championship Tournament, played in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Unfortunately, the Parsons were ousted by Southeastern Community College (Iowa) 75-49 in the first round.
“It may not have necessarily ended the way we wanted to in Hutchinson, but I’m so proud of our team and what they were able to accomplish this season,” Patterson said. “What we really play for is the ACCC Championship, and anything else beyond that is really like icing on the cake. But even more so, I’m proud to share that we started the season with 18 guys on the team, and we ended with 18 guys on this team. That’s never happened before, due to various reasons, but I think that speaks a lot of this group’s character and work ethic both on and off the court. And that’s the kind of guys we always want to have in our program.
“I’m really thankful for the support of the Snead State administration and athletics department, and really our entire community of supporters,” he added. “I’m especially thankful for our Athletic Director Mark Richard and President Dr. Joe Whitmore. Those two are arguably the biggest fans of our guys. And when you have people like that supporting your program and the decisions you make, it makes the job not only easier but more enjoyable, too.”
As Patterson looks ahead, his offseason will look much different from last year, as Patterson will have seven players returning, which includes his two starting frontcourt players, Donte Bacchus and Mario Andrews.
Andrews, a 6’7” redshirt freshman from Independence, La., averaged 10 rebounds per game this year, which led the ACCC. Patterson said his production was comparable to NBA legend Dennis Rodman in the way he has a nose for the ball and specializes in rebounding and defense.
“Mario’s the best rebounder I’ve ever coached in my life,” he said. “I think he will lead the league again in rebounding and all of the hustle stats that most people don’t pay attention to next season … He had 23 rebounds in a single game this year. He had 19 in 25 minutes in a game against Gadsden State … People love playing with a guy like that.”
Patterson said Bacchus, a freshman from Homewood, Ala., had a chance to be a star next season.
“If he continues to put in the work and get better, I think Donte has a chance to be the best player in the league,” Patterson said. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a player that good coming back.”
Standing 6’6”, Bacchus poses a threat to score from nearly anywhere on the court. In the ACCC Tournament, the Parsons often ran the offense through him to take advantage of mismatches he presented to opposing defenses. He averaged 11.3 points per game this season – the team’s third-highest total – shooting 45.6 percent overall and 36.9 percent from three-point range. He also averaged 5.7 rebounds per game.
“After Christmas, he probably averaged about 15 points per game,” he said.
Despite a deep, experienced frontcourt group coming back, Patterson will have to replace nearly his entire backcourt after sophomore leaders including Ty Briscoe (13.4 ppg, 5.9 apg, 1.3 spg), John Whitehead III (17.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.1 spg) and Cole Maddox (10 ppg) depart. He plans to do so mainly by recruiting incoming freshman, rather than bringing in a handful of transfers as he did just one year ago.
Should the Parsons hope to repeat this season’s success and defend their ACCC Championship, it will be through finding the right personnel, Patterson said.
“That’s really the key,” he said. “It’s all about finding the right guys. It’s not so much about X’s and O’s as it is building the right culture. Getting guys in here who have that championship mentality – unselfish, focused on winning, fighters, willing to be team guys and work hard at perfecting the little things. When you get bring in the right kids who are willing to buy in like that, that’s when you see success.”