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Coach Haston Starts Fast

March 16, 2011
Perry County High School

Perry Co. coach starts fast

State tourney is first since 2003 for program

1:05 AM, Mar. 16, 2011  |   2Comments
<b>Perry Co. Coach Kirk Haston played at Indiana and in the NBA.</b> Purchase Image
Perry Co. Coach Kirk Haston played at Indiana and in the NBA. / Chip Cirillo / The Tennessean
Written by
Chip Cirillo

MURFREESBORO - When Perry County's Kirk Haston was promoted to head coach at the beginning of the basketball season, he was just hoping for a winning record.

But deep down, he knew the Vikings could do a lot more.

"I was just wanting to win the first game and then I was wanting to be above .500 - kind of smaller goals individually," said Haston, a volunteer assistant the previous three seasons. "Now I had high expectations. I felt like if we stayed healthy and stayed together as a unit, we could compete with just about anybody in the state in Class A. And I think we've shown that so far."

Haston, the 1997 Mr. Basketball winner who led Perry County to a 37-0 record and a Class A title, has coached the Vikings (23-7) to their first state tournament appearance since 2003. Perry County faces Clay County (25-8) in a quarterfinal at 3:15 p.m. today at Middle Tennessee State's Murphy Center in one of six state tourney openers.

Perry County has six boys basketball titles - 1955-57, 1976-77 and 1997 - tied for the most in state history with Montgomery Bell Academy and Bolton.

"Those six championship banners that hang in our gym are a lot heavier for a team than the material they're printed on," Haston said. "When a team is practicing underneath those you've got a lot of tradition that weighs on these guys' shoulders, and I'm glad they were able to shed some of that weight and say that they've made the state tournament, and hopefully have a chance at winning that seventh title."

Haston, 32, went on to play for Coach Bob Knight at Indiana before spending two seasons in the NBA with the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets.

"I actually got a text message from (Coach Knight's) wife and him (Saturday) just congratulating us and wishing us the best of luck," Haston said. "I've been keeping him updated on what's going on. You can't calculate the things that you're able to learn from a man like that."

During Haston's junior season at Indiana in 2001, he hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that beat top-ranked Michigan State 59-58 to end the 2000 national champions' 23-game win streak.

On a bus ride home from last week's overtime win over top-ranked Clarksville Academy, a Perry County player watched his coach hit the shot on YouTube and asked Haston which was bigger - the buzzer-beater to upset Michigan State or the sectional win over the Cougars?

"I've got to take what happened tonight," Haston said. "I'd say that they're pretty close."

Dray Mercer scored a career-high 36 points in the win over Clarksville Academy (31-2), the defending Class A champion that had not lost a home game since January 2008.

"In Perry County, there's a lot of tradition," Mercer said. "Those state championships mean a lot to us. We're trying to bring back that tradition."

Cannon Rhodes is a second-generation Viking standout. His father, Mike, is one of the state's all-time leading scorers with 3,271 points from 1974-77. He led the Vikings to state titles in 1976 and 1977 before signing with Vanderbilt.

"He said it was just crazy back then and now I've got a chance to do it," said Cannon Rhodes, who averages 17.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. "He took me to the gym every night when I was younger. We just feel like we're part of the tradition."

Reach Chip Cirillo at 615-664-2194 or ccirillo@tennessean.com

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