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Jay Johnson a Link to the 1989 State Championship Team

Jay Johnson
Jay Johnson

It's hard to determine who had the biggest grin on their face Monday night after Franklin defeated Gallatin 63-42 to advance to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's state basketball tournament in Murfreesboro for the first time in 30 years – head coach Darrin Joines, the Rebels players or athletic director Jay Johnson.

I'll put my money on Johnson, the strongest link between the two groups of athletes. "My mind is kind of racing right now," Johnson said immediately after the game. "As a coach you want to see your kids react like that and be excited about doing something that special." If you look at the official team picture of that state championship team from 30 years ago, you'll find a fresh-faced junior, probably not yet shaving, looking a little uncomfortable in his No. 32 jersey. The son of a coach, Johnson was much more comfortable running coach Joe Daves' offense all the way to a golden ball.

Johnson was a quiet key to that 1989 championship team and returned to his alma mater in 2003 to coach, making the then sub-state game three times but never getting over the hump. The last time he moved the Rebels to one game away from the Big Dance in 2009, their hopes were shattered on the road by a Beech squad coached by Darrin Joines. Yeah, that Darrin Joines. Thirty years ago, Johnson was running the point against the green-and-gold clad Burros of Hillsboro in the final game ever played in the old Franklin gym to earn a spot in the tourney. Monday night, he was behind a microphone as part of the Franklin High School Media Class live stream of the game. "It was easier behind a microphone but a lot more fun to be on the floor back then," he said.

Franklin lost in the sectional/sub-state game last year, and Johnson said he saw a lot of the same emotions with this edition of the Rebels as he did with his own team. "These kids were the same as us today (prior to the sectional match-up with Gallatin), a little more business-like," he said. "But they played in this game last year, just as we had played in the state tournament the year before. The excitement was still there, but it was like, okay, we're here for a different reason this year." There are a tremendous number of coincidences that link the two teams, and Johnson is the lynchpin and often the first to bring them up.

How many are there?

 • Both teams lost their last game at Dickson County;

 • Both teams had tremendous shooters/scorers leading the way (Kevin Anglin/Reese Glover);

 • Both teams had strong rebounders (Chan Workman/Matt Thurman and Ahsharri Haynesworth);

 • Both teams had solid, basketball-smart point guards (Johnson/Reed Kemp);

 • Both teams rounded out their starting five with solid role players capable of stepping up to "star" performances when needed (Vandell Grigsby and Tony Hardison/Jordan Bruce);

 • Both teams faced opponents at home in the sectional game (Hillsboro/Gallatin) with identical gold and green colors;

 • Both teams were/are considered underdogs for the golden ball going into the tournament;

 • Both tournaments were/are scheduled for the week before spring break;

 • Both tournaments were/are at Murphy Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University (the '88 state tourney was held at Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium).

Does this team understand those coincidences? "Probably not," Johnson said. "They probably look at them and go, 'Coach, that was a long time ago.'" All those coincidences will mean nothing Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. when Franklin (28-6) faces Knoxville Bearden (29-5) in the opening round of the tournament. What will not be coincidence is Johnson's attendance, not as a player, but as an athletic director. "I get to go watch," he said. "I got to the sectionals three times as a coach and never made it. It's going to be fun to have this new perspective."

Source:  Willamson Herald