BY HUNTER DONELSON
What do a high school basketball team in Independence, MO and an NFL team in Ohio have in common? In the case of the Truman boys’ basketball team and the Cleveland Browns that answer is quite a lot.
In 2016-2017, the Browns became just the fifth team in NFL history to finish a season winless at 0-16. Here at Truman, the boys’ basketball team finished the season 0-22 in what could be considered one of the worst seasons in school history.
The 2017-2018 season saw little change in Cleveland as they managed to pull out 2 wins, but still… 14 losses. The Truman Patriots that season? 3-24. People began to notice that neither team seemed headed in the right direction and an adjustment needed to be made.
Then came 2018-2019, both teams saw big developments from their young cores . It was out with the old, in with the new. Cleveland let go of players Jason McCourty, Isaiah Crowell, Corey Coleman, and Danny Shelton. The Truman Patriots lost seven seniors (four of them starters).
The similarities between an NFL team and a high school basketball team are quite striking. Both teams have gone through some real struggles but finally broke out of it, and what was the answer all along? Youth. The Cleveland Browns’ roster has an average age of 25 years old, the youngest in the NFL. The Truman Patriots dropped six seniors from last season. Those changes lead to just two seniors, seven juniors, and two sophomores on the varsity squad this season. Youth helped Truman find more success this season at 13-13 than the last four years combined (12-59). For the Cleveland Browns, they finished the 2018-2019 season an unexpected 7-8-1. But before a youth movement of their own, they accumulated a 4-44 record over three years.
It was a season full of improvements and for the Patriots it ultimately led to the district semi-final game against two-seeded Raytown High School on the Patriots’ home court.
Raytown came out swinging by running a fast paced, high tempo offense that can typically separate them from their opponents early on. It caught the Patriots off guard, but with a few nice shots Truman was able to hold Raytown to a single digit lead, 20-11, ending the first quarter.
Then, senior Don Edmondson began his take over. Although Kaimen Lennox was the one that countered every run Raytown made, it was Edmondson that made a memorable run of his own. After back-to-back three point buckets and an incredible and-one finger roll, he had himself on a 9-0 run and the Patriots squad on a 15-4 run.
“[Don] did a great job handling the leadership role. At the beginning of the season when we started off bad but he kept a positive attitude and was really motivating everyone. It eventually became contagious and we hit that big turn around at the end of the season,” said junior Carter Brown who spent a lot of time being mentored by Edmondson.
Much like the Browns did when trading for Jarvis Landry, Coach Briggs used Edmondson as a veteran presence. Landry isn’t very much older than the rest of his team in Cleveland, but they brought the superstar wide receiver in to be a leader for them. Edmondson is just a year older than the much of the rest of his team, but to them he’s what brings it all together. He’s an accountable player you can always rely on, much like… Jarvis Landry.
But Landry isn’t the only Browns player that mirrors a Patriot. The Brown’s young difference maker Myles Garrett seems like a perfect comparison to Truman’s own showstopper, Kaimen Lennox. Garrett might not be considered the Browns’ “leader”, but he arguably has the biggest impact on the field for Cleveland. Similarly Lennox provides the Patriots with their biggest impact even though there are more veteran players on the team.
“It makes everything easier for the rest of us when other teams focus on trying to stop Kaimen. They start overplaying him a lot which opens up spots on the court for the rest of us to get open shots and find lanes to the basket,” said junior guard Cameron Robins.
Lennox had two monster dunks out on fastbreaks in the most pivotal moments of the game. One of them gave the Patriots a one-point lead in the fourth quarter and the other with a tie game in overtime. He also seemed to halt any momentum the Blue Jays would have had with dagger after dagger leaving the Raytown defense with more holes than a golf course.
Lennox finished with a game-leading 23 points but it felt like so much more. Whenever Truman needed just a little extra it was Lennox who found another gear. With 11.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter the Patriots had possession with the game tied at 49. Every person in the arena was thinking the same thing; who do you go to? Do you give it to Edmondson, who would probably be the best option under pressure, or do you let your best player in Lennox take a shot to advance to the district championship game? For Briggs, it was a decision he had a very short amount of time to make. And he chose to go to the junior star. It was as simple as an isolation play and a play that will rest in the minds of Patriot fans for generations to come.
In what could be considered the most controversial part of the game, Lennox stood with the ball near half court, slowly he crept his way towards the basket. Dribbling with the ball in his left hand, he gave his defender a small hesitation and faked the drive. His defender bit, and he had the space to shoot. Lennox shot, Lennox was blocked, Lennox was fouled. But there was no whistle. Freedom Kingdom erupted at the no call as did the Patriots bench and Coach Briggs. Lennox looked to the nearest ref with a questioning glance as he walked over to the bench before the overtime period began.
Overtime was a lot of back and forth action but not a lot of scoring. With just under three minutes left in overtime each team had only scored two points, tied at 51. Raytown senior Desmond Hutson drives into the lane, Patriots junior Macio Moananu strips the ball. Kaimen “Gametime” Lennox, a nickname he picked up from students of Freedom Kingdom, collects the loose ball and is off to the races. With a Raytown player chasing right behind him nobody knew if Lennox would slam it through this time, but he did. To add a little more to it he hung around the rim for a second as Freedom Kingdom cranked the volume up another few decibels.
“When I had the ball at about half court and I saw [Raytown’s Aaron Franklin] I thought in my head, I have no choice but to dunk this, why not finish with a bang? I heard the crowd get loud and I wanted to make it even louder. It was an adrenaline rush going up for that dunk and it felt great since it gave us the lead,” said Lennox.
But then the tide turned back to Raytown. The Patriots fouled on an offensive rebound that sent Raytown’s Ben Bryant to the line for two. Bryant clanked the first as Freedom Kingdom was pulling their best “Allen Fieldhouse” interpretation. Bryant stepped back to the line for his next free throw, he missed again. Raytown got yet another offensive rebound as Desmond Hutson went back up, it was sent back by Moananu. Hutson got the ball right back and put up another shot, this time he got it to go with a foul. The game was tied at 53 with 40 seconds left and Hutson at the free throw line in what could potentially give Raytown a one-point lead. The free throw came off the front of the rim as Moananu pulled down the board and gave it to Lennox. He brought the ball up the court and drove to the basket, Hutson reached in and Lennox would have two huge free throws coming up. He stepped up and made the first foul shot. The next one came and took a bounce off of the front of the rim. Raytown got the rebound and called timeout with the Patriots up by one and 17.5 seconds left on the clock.
Raytown inbounded the ball and as point guard Ayris Abdelnassar passed to his teammate it was stolen by Truman’s Sam Billimon. Billimon was fouled and going to the free throw line, up one, with less than 10 seconds left in overtime. On the front end of a one-and-one, Billimon shot as everyone held their breath. The ball went in-and-out off of the front of the rim and the Blue Jays grabbed the rebound.
With no timeouts left they brought the ball down the court. Running out of space on the court driving baseline, Raytown’s Aubrey Martin swung it to big man Aaron Franklin who was standing wide open under the basket. Franklin put it in at the buzzer and the Truman side of the gym went silent. Shock etched its way across the faces of the Patriot faithful as their season ended on a buzzer beater, 55-54.
“It was tough, heartbreaking really. We worked hard all season long so it definitely wasn’t the way we wanted to part ways with this season. But next season is going to be the best Truman basketball has ever been,” said junior Jeilel Phillips.
The Patriots season couldn’t have ended any more heartbreaking than it did but there was still a lot to be proud of, finishing the regular season on a seven-game winning streak.
“It is nice to have so many talented players back next year. I think they all know we have an opportunity to have a very special season if we continue to work hard and improve in the off-season,” said Coach Briggs.
The Browns have now transformed into what many are calling Super Bowl contenders, but are first looking to make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. For Truman, they’re looking for their first district championship since 2007 and next season could be the team to do it.