SYLACAUGA, Ala. – Deep post-season runs are becoming a habit for the good guys in cardinal and white as the Sylacauga High School Varsity Boys are just one win away from their second straight class 5A Final Four appearance.
On Friday in the Regional Semifinals against Booker T. Washington (Tuskeegee), the Aggies shocked the world with a miracle three-pointer as time expired. With .6 seconds remaining on the clock, trailing 50-48, senior Keaton Wilson in-bounded the ball to fellow senior Darian Garrett who, standing seven-to-eight feet behind the three line, buried the game winning three point shot as the buzzer sounded in the Acadome on Alabama State University’s campus in Montgomery, giving the Aggies a 51-50 win. What culminated in that moment was pure joy and excitement. Garrett’s teammates and coaches swarmed him at half-court expressing the jubilation that happened milliseconds before as the Aggies celebrated advancing to tonight’s Regional Final game against Calera.
That moment, however, would not have been possible if not for the play before the play. Just one series before Garrett’s miraculous shot to send BTW packing back to Tuskeegee, the Aggies seemingly lost the game. Joe Phillips for BTW just knocked down the go ahead shot with a measly six seconds remaining on the clock, and the Aggies called a timeout.
Six seconds and the length of the floor to go is less than ideal in high school basketball, and it almost ended the season. Following the timeout, the ball was in-bounded to Garrett who passed it off to Malik Powell. Powell, with no choice but to shoot, shot. However, last-second heave to the basket was blocked. The Golden Eagles celebrated on the floor as the buzzer sounded, but the game was all but over. After the ball was blocked it hit the out of bounds line just in front of the court-side radio and TV table, leaving .6 seconds on the clock.
The rest is history.
It would have been easy for the Aggies to quit in that moment, especially with less than one second remaining. But these Aggies have been tested while facing adversity all season.
Sitting at 27-6 (which is a record most teams would die for) heading into tomorrow’s game, you might ask ‘where was the adversity?” That adversity reared its ugly head as the Aggies struggled though a mid-season lull as if the team was caught in the doldrums of a long high school basketball season.
Just before Christmas, the Aggies dropped two consecutive games against Coosa Central and arch rival Talladega. A week later the boys lost its third game in five tries to Hueytown in tournament play in the Big Orange Classic in Hoover. So what turned the tide for the Aggies? It may have been a simple letter of encouragement from a man and family who hold this Aggie team close to their hearts.
At Sylacauga home games, you can find Michael Adair sitting on the front row near half-court in the new chair backed seats cheering on the Aggies in the relatively newly upgraded Douglass-Martin Court. Adair, a state champion for the Aggie baseball team in his playing days, went through many tough losses just like this group of players, and understood what the current players were going through. You can also find his eight-year-old son Anderson, sitting at the far end of the Aggie bench, acting as the team’s water boy and assisting the players in any way he can.
The relationship between the Aggies and the Adairs began when tragedy struck the family as Michael’s wife, Heather, was diagnosed with cancer. “As a family, we were really touched by a personal card that was sent to my wife Heather early during her cancer battle. The card was sent by the boys basketball team at SHS and coaches William Copeland and Joel Jones. My son Anderson and I really became interested in the team, bought season tickets, and started following them closely. We have had a lot of fun this season and Anderson really feels like he is part of the team,” explained Michael Adair.
Because of the kind gesture by the Aggies during Heather’s ongoing battle, Adair wrote a letter to help inspire the team during those tough losses. The letter was read to the team by Coach Copeland before a mid-season game. “I just wanted them to know that the community is behind them, what they mean to Sylacauga, and how they can use the setbacks as motivation to finish strong,” Adair said. “I also thanked them for reaching out to my wife and son. It really is touching!”
Here is the full letter Adair passed along to the team.
Dear Sylacauga boys team,
I want you to know that you all sent my wife a card early during her cancer battle and it really meant a lot to me. I have taken a strong interest in your team and am one of your biggest fans, along with my 8-year-old son, Anderson. He looks up to every one of you and gets excited talking about each of you and the things you do. He really loves to win and is a winner himself. I’m very thankful that you have allowed him to be a water boy during some games. He takes pride in that. He has a tough time dealing with his mother’s hard battle, and times like this are so precious for me to see him have joy. Thank you all for accepting him and giving our family something to get behind. I want to ask each of you to use these last few weeks of setbacks and close losses as a motivation. I was a state champion at Sylacauga when I was a senior and we used hard losses like those to motivate us to be better. Work a little harder in practice and give a little more effort in every game to make our school and our city a champion. There is no greater feeling. I think you guys are championship caliber guys and players. Do it for your family and for the kids like Anderson, that think you are all super stars (and just as big as Steph Curry in his eyes).
Thank you for showing kindness to my wife. I’ll never forget it and for it I am your biggest fan.
Kind Regards and go Aggies!
Adair’s support did not stop with a letter. His church also hosted the Aggies during the season, fed them, and had the opportunity to socialize with the group of young men.
It seems the team took the letter and other outreach opportunities to heart and used it as motivation. On Wednesday night, Feb. 21, the Aggies will face the Calera Eagles in the Regional Finals in Montgomery with a Final Four appearance on the line at 5:45.
But even if the Aggies do not come out on top against Calera, Adair believes the varsity boys program deserves the respect of that given to a champion hoisting a trophy at the end of the season. “As a lifelong resident of Sylacauga, SHS alumnus, and someone that has a tremendous amount of community pride, we are very excited with how this team represents our school and community. Coach Will Copeland is a great man and has really built a first class program here, and I think the future is really bright. He has a good assistant coach in Jones and he fits so well with Will [Copeland] and is an asset to this program,” he said. “I want to encourage the community to get behind this team and help support the efforts of SHS basketball. Regardless of whether we win the Regional Final game or not. This has been an awesome run these last two years, and we are very proud to be Sylacauga Aggies.
Wednesday’s game can be heard live on Yea!106.5 and WYEA1290. It can be streamed on WYEA.net and the Yea!106.5 app.