NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Two years ago York Institute basketball coach Russell Tays suffered a heart attack that required sextuple-bypass surgery. He wasn’t sure he’d ever coach again.
But as he felt better later that spring, Tays decided he would return to the bench and the game and team he loved. When he was back with his boys in October of 2019, the veteran coach had a simple message for them.
"If you work hard, love each other and believe in each other, you can accomplish something special,” Tays said.
The Dragons had a solid come back season, going 21-8 and finishing as runner-up in both the region and sectional tournament.
But York Institute had bigger plans for the 2020 postseason. The Dragons were led by senior starters Roger Meadows and Noah Smith, who combined to score 35 points per game. They also got key contributions from juniors Riley Cooper and Jacob Jennings and two up and coming sophomores, point guard Nicolas Smith and post player Jonathan Heddings.
Those six players carried York to a 25-8 record and the program’s first regional title since 1986, when Tays was just in his first season on the team’s bench as an assistant coach.
Then in the Sub-State game against Tyner, the Dragons exercised the demons from last year as Smith scored the game-winning basket with 24 seconds left. The 54-52 win sparked a wild celebration and sent York Institute to state for the first time in the program’s history.
The Coronavirus kept them from running out on the Murphy Center floor, but what a year.
Tays summed it up this way, "Our Father in Heaven is good. After all the difficulties he turned around and blessed me and our team in so many ways."
Rest easy coach. Your boys listened, and had that special season.