HomeSchoolsHoops consistency at South Side based on coaches' longevity

Hoops consistency at South Side based on coaches’ longevity

Not many schools get to enjoy coming away from the state basketball tournament with hardware from an appearance in the state championship game.

But South Side is coming off a season where the school did that twice as both the Hawks and Lady Hawks finished second in the state last year.

And while a pair of state runner-up finishes is a noteworthy accomplishment, both programs are simply living up to a standard they’ve set for years.

Since the Hawks’ trip to the state championship game in 2013, they’ve been a mainstay in Murfreesboro nearly every year since, winning it all in 2014 and a chance to win it all in 2020 with an undefeated record before the TSSAA shut all sports down in the middle of the girls’ state tournament, resulting in a canceled boys’ tournament. They also finished runner-up the past two seasons.

The Lady Hawks’ second-ever trip to Murfreesboro came in 2017, 23 years after their previous trip. And they made it back this past year after falling short the past few years, finishing as the state runner-up.

There are a number of reasons that fans can point to that make South Side the bar to live up to in Jackson – talented players, alumni playing in college and beyond, district and region championships and the added support for the program bred by past success.

But at the heart of all that is the fact that DaMonn Fuller is beginning his 21st season leading the boys’ team at South Side and Brent McNeal is starting his 12th. That stability at the top of each program provides consistency in expectations and methods, and the fact they’re both still at the same school riding the same buses on road trips creates even more synergy between the programs.

“When I first took over the girls’ program, I was his assistant and he was mine,” McNeal said about Fuller. “And that was good for me because he’d already been here a few years and had established his program and the expectations for everyone in it.

“And they were on the verge of getting to the top, which they did a couple years after that, and they’ve been one of the most consistent winners since then. And we’re trying to be that consistent too.”

It took a few years and a number of lop-sided losses early on to build South Side boys into a perennial winner, but Fuller as the machine rolling. That machine will be tested this year as the Hawks are the epitome of a young team without a single senior or junior on the roster.

“This is a young team, but I like the players we have,” Fuller said. “We may take some hits this year, but knowing I’ve probably got this team coming back for two more years with that much time to develop means we’ve got a chance to do something special.

“And I don’t plan on veering off what we’ve built here. It’s proven itself to work, and we’re sticking with it.”

McNeal says the same about his team. But it’s not just hard work on the court that McNeal pushes for his players that he’s proud of. He’s proud of what the program has become off the field as he’s continued to push the first part of the term “student-athlete.”

“The past four years, every player that has graduated from this program has left here with a grade-point average of at least 3.0,” McNeal said. “And when you’ve got a group of girls who are willing to work that hard in the classroom, then you know they’ll work hard in practice too.

“And working hard in practice is what this program was built on. There were times early on that I’d go home and wonder if I was working them too hard. But I’ve got some text groups with a lot of the players who were with us then. They’re successful now as adults, living their lives and working and raising families. And every now and then, they’ll tell me that all that is happening because of what they learned during those hard practices. So we may not have won a state championship yet, but I know what we’re doing is working when I get those texts.”

Both teams consistently put players in college. McNeal counted seven Lady Hawk alumnae that are playing collegiately somewhere right now. Fuller wasn’t sure how many is in college now, but he knows more than 40 have signed somewhere during his first 20 years of coaching and he’s got two playing professionally overseas – Jaylen Barford and Chris McNeal.

“And the ones that may not have played anymore ball after they were done here – there’s a lot of successful stories among those guys,” Fuller said. “They thank me for instilling a work ethic into them, and I thank them for working hard for me while they were here. Because without the work they put in back then, what we’re doing now isn’t possible.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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