Eagle Elite Boys Basketball: Burns leads Cordova to elusive championship

By W. BRIAN HALE, Eagle Sports Writer
Posted 4/9/18

Entering the 2017-18 season, Cordova head coach Heath Burns and his staff of Dennis Woods, Nathan Sanders, Joe Moon and Murray Bondman knew that a third straight trip to the Class 4A Final Four and winning the school’s first state championship would be a daunting challenge.

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Eagle Elite Boys Basketball: Burns leads Cordova to elusive championship

Posted

Entering the 2017-18 season, Cordova head coach Heath Burns and his staff of Dennis Woods, Nathan Sanders, Joe Moon and Murray Bondman knew that a third straight trip to the Class 4A Final Four and winning the school’s first state championship would be a daunting challenge.

With three seniors returning — Isaac Chatman, Jayce Willingham and Demetrius Kirk — the foundation for success was present. Obstacles, however, were also present before and during the season, from replacing valuable starters and bench players, to a midseason four-game losing streak and developing young players into key contributors.

With the help of their senior trio, Burns and his staff set to work with a plan worthy of the Blue Devils’ title aspirations that eventually led back to Final Four and culminated with Walker County’s first state basketball championship.

Burns is the Daily Mountain Eagle Elite Coach of the Year.

With the adversity present before the season began, Burns said a conversation with his mother prior to the year, together with a pact made with his three seniors, set the tone for the way Burns and his team would deal with the obstacles in their path.

“We were trying to key in on an identity for our team. During a talk I had with my mom — who is a very devout Christian lady — she said, ‘Little is big when God is in it.’ I went to my coaching staff and talked about that conversation and it helped set our mind into what we needed to do and how we were going to approach it,” Burns said.

“Demetrius came up to me one day after a preseason practice and said, ‘You know coach, this is it. Our last chance. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win a championship.’ Jayce and Isaac heard that, came over and said the same thing. The four of us made a pact that day to work hard and do everything we could to win the title. It was those two events, along with the gracious blessing of God, that drove our season and led us to win the championship.”

With Kirk providing excellent play at the point, as well as Chatman and Willingham making key contributions in the front court, the Blue Devils’ championship drive took shape.

Throughout the season when tough tests came in the form of formidable opponents, injuries and a string of losses, Cordova continued to keep its mind set established before the season in the forefront.

Along the way, the younger members of the team began to show their capabilities. Kam Cooper and Dylan Hendrix became important and valuable components in the starting lineup, while Aiden Gay and Kason Smith were vital off the bench.

The Blue Devils won their fourth consecutive Walker County championship, followed by the 4A, Area 10 championship a few weeks later. After the sub-region, Cordova won close matchups with Haleyville and Deshler for the Northwest Regional Tournament title, allowing a return to the Final Four.

The State Tournament proved to provide equally tough tests. The Blue Devils needed spectacular last-minute play against Andalusia in the semifinal, then against Madison Academy in the championship game, but attained victory and the school’s first state title.

Outside of having their name permanently etched in history as champions, the 2017-18 Blue Devils also left mark in the state record books. Cordova ranks third for a season in free throw percentage, second in most free throws made by a team and a first place ranking in the most free throws made by a team.

“All the credit for this season goes to our three seniors, our coaching staff and to the team as a whole. It took every kid on our team to buy in to what we were doing, as well as every coach from top to bottom,” Burns said. “It’s still hard to fathom, as it’s a first — for our school and our entire county — but it was God carrying out his work through some best kids that I’ve been in my life.”