Three years in, Burns has Tornadoes playing for title
by W. Brian Hale
Feb 28, 2014 | 1368 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Parrish Heath Burns instructs his team during Tuesday’s state semifinal game against Sunshine at the BJCC. The Tornadoes have won 77 games over the last three years under Burns, who also guided Dora to the state title game in 2009, has Parrish in the state championship game for the first time. Today’s game can be heard on Oldies 101.5 FM. Photo by Johnathan Bentley
Parrish Heath Burns instructs his team during Tuesday’s state semifinal game against Sunshine at the BJCC. The Tornadoes have won 77 games over the last three years under Burns, who also guided Dora to the state title game in 2009, has Parrish in the state championship game for the first time. Today’s game can be heard on Oldies 101.5 FM. Photo by Johnathan Bentley
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BIRMINGHAM — Three seasons ago, Heath Burns arrived to take the Parrish Tornadoes’ basketball program to new heights.

Although outstanding, raw talent was in place when he took over the reigns of a team that defied odds by making a Northwest Regional Tournament appearance, the road would be long and fraught with challenges.

Following a 21-9 season in 2011-12 that lent plenty of promise to the future, the Tornadoes put together a stellar 28-2 mark in 2012-13, where they won the Walker County and Area 13 championships, only to have their season end in a 68-67 loss to Marion County in the Northwest Regional Championship game.

Many within this year’s team who suffered through the heartbreaking region championship loss contend that the journey to today’s state championship game began on that fateful day last January — with the feeling that “unfinished business was left on the table.”

Though the record from last year has remained the same, the results have been radically different. Parrish not only repeated as Walker County and Area 13 champions, the team broke ground in capturing the school’s first Northwest Regional Championship and secured its first berth in the AHSAA Final Four. Following Tuesday’s 60-46 victory over Sunshine, one goal remains — the ultimate goal the team has sought all season — a state title.

The team’s three seniors, Barry Hill, Jermichael Harris and Reginald Harris, have played key roles in getting Parrish to today’s Class 1A main event matchup.

Together with first-year players Denzell Daley and Treyvon Chatman, the five players form a starting quintet that has won 19 consecutive games, often by decisive margins.

For Hill, the monumental year started during the summer when he was selected to play in the AHSAA All-Star game in Montgomery. In October, he committed to Jacksonville State and quickly turning his attention to the season, established a point of leadership on the team through great play on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. An MVP in the Walker County, Area 13 and Northwest Regional Tournaments, Hill has further cemented his legacy in the state record books this year — making the list with his 13 blocks in a win against Brilliant in January and his 232 blocks on the year — which has earned him the third place all-time in blocks for a season. He leads the team with 13.9 points a game.

As his career at Parrish winds to a close, among his most treasured memories during the journey to the state final rests in the time with his teammates, his “band of brothers” that have brought him endless hours of joy.

“I love this team — there’s no other like it anywhere. It’s really going to be sad to me to see it come to an end,” Hill said. “I really don’t want it to end, but it’s got to. We will all have to move on. Above all else, the day we all got baptized together is what I’ll always take with me. We continue to grow spiritually every day and all of us getting closer to God has been such a wonderful experience.”

Jermichael Harris began the year away from his team, after an off-the-court problem forced him to sit out the first part of the year. Undeterred, Harris made his return in December and immediately made an impact — driving to the lane past formidable defenders and fighting off defenders to grab rebounds. Averaging 10.7 points per game this year, as well as leading the team in assists with 99, Harris has proved equally capable in taking the difficult shot, as well as finding an open teammate set up for an easy basket. He was named to the Walker County and Area 13 All-Tournament teams this season.

Like Hill, Jermichael holds the team getting baptized together to be a joyous moment in the path to the title game, as well as winning back-to-back county championships.

“When we all, as a team, got baptized together is something that I’ll always keep in my heart. It’s something that will connect us together for the rest of our lives and it has brought such a change to each and every one of us,” Jermichael said. “Winning county championships was special because you want to be best among all the schools around us — and you want to go into the postseason as county champ. I think for me personally, when I came back to my team in December will always be a great memory. I always want to tell them to not take anything for granted as you never know when your last play or shot will be, and to give it everything out on the court every day.”

Reginald Harris has started in all 90 games since Burns took command of the team — and has evolved his game to not only be a scoring threat, but also one of the top defenders in the state. Often assigned to guarding the opposing team’s top scorers, Reginald has been cited for his tenacious play — play that has earned him spots on the All-County and Area 13 Tournament teams.

The team’s journey, both on the hardwood as well as spiritually, has been memorable for Reggie — as well as rewarding after the hard work and effort that was put out.

“Being with my teammates and getting to know God — it’s two things that went hand-in-hand this year and that’s what made us unique,” Reginald said. “We’re a family — being in the state championship game with them is a great blessing. Win or lose, we love God and each other — through our bond with each other in getting to know Him, we’ve built something special that I think has touched a lot of people including ourselves.”

Daley and Treyvon Chatman have also brought something special to the team in both juniors’ first year at Parrish.

Daley, a strong three-point shooter, who is second on the team with 13.3 points a game, has proved to be equally adept in making shots close to the goal and isn’t afraid to go up for a dunk when the opportunity presents itself. Chatman, who debuted shortly before the season’s midway point, has also been a solid scoring threat, mystifying opponents with great ball-handling skills and quick passes to open teammates. Against Sunshine, he was an outstanding 80 percent from three-point range, connecting on 4 of 5 shots.

Both earned spots on the All-County and Area 13 teams, with Daley also being selected to the Northwest Region Tournament Team.

Another advantage Parrish has enjoyed this year is depth. Eighth grader Isaac Chatman and sophomore Mykelti Chatman have been key backups to the starters this season, providing clutch plays in relief. Sophomores Noah Ard and Jaylan Clay have also come off the bench and performed well.

Burns said his three seniors, along with Daley and Chatman have been a source of both pride and joy to coach. Along with the great bench players that have developed this season, his third season at Parrish has been one of the most rewarding of his career.

“I can’t say enough about what Barry, Jermichael and Reginald have meant to this program, our school and to our community. They’ve given their hearts and everything they have into every game I’ve coached — as well as done everything that I’ve asked of them. It’s been wonderful to watch them grow and mature as they have — both as basketball players and as good, Christian young men. They have meant so much to me and everyone touched by Parrish High School because of their commitment and loyalty on the court and in their spiritual lives,” Burns said.

“Treyvon has been outstanding for us since the first day he arrived here — he’s worked so hard and he’s been at game speed since his first day. We wouldn’t be where we’re at today without him and he is one of the best young men I’ve ever been around. Denzell has also been a great part of our success — he works hard, he plays hard and through all of it, his character is second to none. Noah’s progression this year has been nothing short of remarkable — as well as Jaylen’s. With both of those guys, you can see that there is a future for them. They’re going to be big-time players in our program and this year they have made major contributions to get us to the championship game.”