MURFREESBORO — After an emotional 46-42 victory over Brentwood in the Class AAA semifinals Friday, East coach Jevonte Holmes paused to reflect on his first year running the program.
He choked up, his voice cracked, and he even shed a few tears as James Wiseman and Antonio Thomas patted him on the back for support.
“Man it was just, what we’ve been through this year,” Holmes said. “The vision that started with (former East coaches) Dez (Merriweather) and Penny (Hardaway). Me being here. People thought we couldn’t be here again. They said it was over.”
But though the Mustangs (26-8) fell in the championship, they made their fourth consecutive Class AAA state title game appearance against Bearden (31-5) on Saturday.
Things are different this year as East tried to win a fourth straight title. Hardaway and Alex Lomax are at Memphis. Chandler Lawson will play for a Class AA championship with Wooddale. Malcolm Dandridge was out with a knee injury. East tried to win the TSSAA record 10th state championship with a largely new cast of characters, including Thomas who transferred from Ridgeway.
But the constant from this year to last has been Wiseman, a Memphis signee and the No. 5 player in the Chosen 25. His loyalty and leadership has proved crucial for the Mustangs.
“From Day 1, James could have left. He could have gone to any prep school he wanted to. He decided to stay here with me, man,” said Holmes. “He believed in what I was doing, what we were trying to do and put together, and look at us now.”
Wiseman said that he stayed because he knows how much basketball means at East and because he wanted to continue the improvement he saw in his game from last year.
“I stayed because of the East High tradition and the development of my game went up tremendously from last year so I just wanted to basically just be under his wing so he (Holmes) can teach me the game of basketball,” said Wiseman, who led the Mustangs in the semifinals with 22 points, seven rebounds and eight blocks, and then posted a double-double in the championship loss.
Wiseman transferred to East before his junior season. He said that part of his motivation to win on Saturday was to get one last state title for Dandridge, who along with Lawson, had the opportunity to become a four-time state champion.
“We’ve got to do it for Malcolm. Malcolm is my guy, we’re going to be playing (together at Memphis) this upcoming year,” said Wiseman. “He really just motivated me to go hard every day in practice, so yeah do it for Malcolm.”