2,000-plus fans on hand to honor first state title since 1973
The New Albany boys’ basketball team – the newly-crowned 2016 Class 4-A state champions – rolled up to the high school’s gym and 2,000-plus fans eagerly awaited them on an Easter Sunday night.
Plenty of dignitaries – from the city’s mayor to school administrators – were on hand to dish out heaping piles of praise on the school’s first state championship team in 43 years.
“This is an important day for me because of my faith,” said New Albany coach Jim Shannon. “It just couldn’t happen on a better day.
“We really haven’t had time for any of this to soak in. This seems so surreal to me because I’ve waited for this for 32 years as a head basketball coach. This has been a long time in coming. I’m very excited about it but not sure it really has happened.”
GALLERY: Bulldogs’ championship celebration
Shannon said the team and its entourage rolled into town about 2 a.m. Sunday morning. By the time he got on the bus Saturday night, Shannon said he had more than 100 text messages and 300-plus emails.
In the next few days, Shannon said he would eventually answer every text or email.
For the coach, it was a weekend of firsts. He said he came to the celebration without notes. Without those notes, Shannon still thanked many on hand, from his family to former New Albany coaches and players.
“We knew we had a special team,” Shannon said. “We knew they were special for some time.”
The team played without star Romeo Langford this summer and went 26-4. “I thought when he returned, we might get a little bit better,” Shannon said.
“We had no idea they’d be state champions. I had no crystal ball for that.”
Shannon said it’s no secret the Bulldogs have one of the best players in all of Indiana.
“I think Romeo is possibly the best player in all of America in the sophomore class,” Shannon said. “With that comes a lot of responsibility. That’s a lot of pressure on a young man.”
Shannon looked a little into Langford’s future at New Albany.
“I hope a lot of you get to know him before he graduates here as our all-time leading scorer, as someone to led us to at least one state championship if not more and – in my opinion, without question – Indiana’s Mr. Basketball.”
Shannon also pointed to the team’s three seniors – Adrian Pratt-Thomas, Michael Maxwell and Josh Jefferson – and said they would not have won the title without them.
Don Unruh, the school’s athletic director, said new banners will be placed in the gym and the gym’s new floor will include 2016 state champion, joining the 1973 state title and the girls’ state 4-A title in 1999.
Unruh also said the school would announce Monday if it would play in the Hall of Fame Classic on Dec. 30 at New Castle.