Sweetwater basketball

Sweetwater’s boys basketball program has made academics a priority while also producing on-court success.

When the Sweetwater boys basketball program gathers for its next annual banquet, don’t expect to see any athletic awards handed out.

No most-valuable-player honors or offensive-standout awards will be bestowed. Neither will any sixth-man or most-improved prizes, either.

Instead, head coach Jeremy Henderson has opted to reward accomplishments in another area: academics. Success in the classroom is vital for Henderson’s Wildcats, and it’s why he only gives out academic awards at his program’s banquets.

“I think it goes back to culture again and just accountability,” Henderson told The Advocate & Democrat. “Just getting these kids to understand how important academics are for future opportunities … The thing you know as a coach is that academics play such a big part in helping kids get opportunities, even athletically, in college, because not everyone is going to get a Division I paid-for scholarship.

“The better (they) do academically, the more opportunities they’re going to have if they excel both in the classroom and athletically.”

And the Wildcats have made the grade.

According to statistics submitted by Henderson to The Advocate & Democrat, Sweetwater’s boys basketball program averaged a 3.6 unweighted GPA the last two years. Plus, all four seniors from the standout 2018-19 Wildcats team recently completed their freshman year of college, with two making the Dean’s List.

Henderson tells his players that “student” comes first in “student-athlete,” and he holds players to a higher standard academically than even the TSSAA.

Simply put: if you fail a class, you don’t play. Players that fail are still part of the program, but they don’t get to play in or dress out for any games.

Such standards are especially impressive considering the success Sweetwater has had on the court as well. The Wildcats won the past two District 5-AA championships and are 49-9 overall under Henderson.

“Everybody’s talked about our success that we’ve had on the court the past two seasons,” Henderson said. “And we’re very proud of that. But we’re equally as proud of what these kids are doing in the classroom … They’re going about their day-to-day business.

“That’s just as important, if not more important, than what we’re doing on the court. As a coaching staff, a program, a school and a state, very proud of what these kids are doing in the classroom.”

Henderson wants each player in his program “to be seen as more than just an athlete.” And he makes sure to keep up with every player, even after they leave Sweetwater High School.

Henderson has remained close with Dominique Oggs, Kolbe Billingsley, Matthew Kile and Christian Baker, the four seniors on that historic 2018-19 team. All currently play college basketball while keeping up with their academics.

“As a coaching staff, it’s something that we talk about,” Henderson said. “We want to see these kids be successful and go get those college degrees or go start whatever career they want to. Just be successful.”

“We wear ‘brotherhood’ on the back of our shirts,” Henderson added. “We want that to be a lifelong thing that you’re part of a brotherhood. It’s not just while you’re in high school.”

Henderson’s goal is simple: to help raise his players into men who can carve out success in their post-basketball lives. He knows the opportunities that academic accomplishments can give them, and he’s going to make sure they’re able to snag those chances.

Ultimately, they will mean even more than those academic awards he bestows each year at the Wildcats’ banquet.

“Above all else,” Henderson said, “we want to see these kids go on to be successful adults and great fathers and great husbands. Carve out a good career for themselves that they will find satisfaction and enjoyment in.”

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