If Sweetwater head boys basketball coach Jeremy Henderson wants to visit multiple former players at once, he knows where to go.
All he has to do is drive to another school.
“From a coaching perspective, it’s going to be nice,” Henderson said. “I travel 20 minutes and I can see my last two classes. So it’s nice to be able to go to Tennessee Wesleyan and sit there and watch some of your former players get the opportunity, so excited about that.”
Henderson’s team is quickly becoming a recruiting pipeline for the Tennessee Wesleyan University men’s basketball program. Four Wildcats have signed with the Bulldogs in the past two years.
After Henderson’s first season with Sweetwater, when the Wildcats notched a 28-3 record in one of the program’s best ever campaigns, three seniors, Dominique Oggs, Matthew Kile and Kobe Billingsley, all signed with TWU.
Last week, the Bulldogs added current Sweetwater senior Carson Hicks. He signed with TWU in a ceremony outside of the SHS school building that drew a vehicle procession of Wildcat teammates, family and fans for a socially-distanced celebration.
“Love it, whether it’s Wesleyan or somewhere else,” Henderson said. “I love (TWU) Coach (Ray) Stone to death. There’s other coaches in this area that I think very highly of and I’d be happy if my players ended up going and playing at those places too. But it does seem like you do have a pipeline right now and I think a lot of that started last year with Dom, Kobe and Matthew.
“These guys grew up together playing basketball here since they were 5, 6, 7-years-old. When you grow up playing with your friends and your brothers and everything, that bond is formed.”
There’s a lot for TWU to like about Henderson’s program. The Wildcats are 49-9 in his two seasons at the helm, and those 49 wins include two consecutive District 5-AA titles.
Oggs, Kile and Billingsley paced the 2018-2019 team that performed so well, and Hicks was the starting point guard for a squad that went 21-6 this past season.
“We always kind of look at Sweetwater,” TWU assistant coach John Ferguson said. “Let’s be honest: Coach Henderson has done really well with some of the kids. Those three (Oggs, Kile and Billingsley) came into our program and hit it head on. We knew that that was the type of kids that (Henderson) coaches here.”
Henderson’s staff makes it a priority to help players that could play college basketball get to where they need to be, both on the court and in the recruiting scene.
“It’s yearly,” Henderson said. “We check in and you’re honest with your players. If you think they’ve got an opportunity to play at the next level, then we’re going to do everything in our power to try to make that happen.”
And it’s not just the Sweetwater boys basketball team that has made a splash in TWU athletics recruiting. Girls basketball standout Mikalee Martin signed with the Lady Bulldogs in October, and boys soccer star Hudson Harvey inked with TWU in February.
“Wesleyan is a very home-feel school,” Ferguson said. “I lived from three hours away when I went to school there from Middle Tennessee, but when I was on campus, it honestly just feels like home. And I think all those local kids, even though it’s local and it’s so close to them, it’s a different atmosphere.
“And then when you have your family that can come and your grandparents that can come. My parents could come on weekends. But being a local kid that can go to a local school and excel with your family and friends around, it’s just a different feeling. So I think that’s a big pull … for a lot of kids.”
But for Sweetwater boys basketball players, there’s now an additional allure to joining the Bulldogs. Wildcats can reunite with former teammates and compete on the court once again.
“I would be lying if I told you I didn’t think that having former players and good friends and brothers at Tennessee Wesleyan probably didn’t influence (Hicks) and his decision to go there, play with Dom and Kobe and Matthew again and reunite with those guys,” Henderson said. “I think it does play heavily into it.”
So when Henderson makes that next trip to a TWU ballgame, he’ll get to see even more former players doing what they once did for him: battling for basketball glory.
It is just the uniform and mascot that are a little bit different.
“All three (former players) that we have there currently at Wesleyan have had really good freshmen years, academically and everything,” Henderson said. “Just proud of all those guys and I’m excited to see Carson put on that T-dub jersey in the next few years.”