JUST LIKE OLD TIMES: Jared Hunt is Academy ISD's athletic director, but 19 years ago he was a backup junior guard on coach Alex Remschel's Bumblebees basketball team that compiled a 33-3 record and won the Class 2A state championship with a pair of dramatic 49-48 victories over Peaster and Frankston in the state tournament at the University of Texas' Frank Erwin Center in Austin. No. 16-ranked Academy (22-7) battles No. 5 San Antonio Cole (25-5) in a 3A state semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hays High School's Oran Bales Gymnasium in Buda. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – Every time Jared Hunt walks into Academy High School's gym known as The Hive and heads toward his office upstairs, the district's athletic director sees two things that instantly bring back a flood of great memories.
One of them is a banner that hangs from the rafters and tells the raw-data story of the Bumblebees' 2001-02 boys basketball team: 33-3 record, Class 2A state champions.
The other thing, though, is the one that really gets the 36-year-old Hunt, a 2003 Academy graduate. It's a large, framed photograph of that squad, the first Academy team to capture a state championship: Hunt with all of his teammates, head coach Alex Remschel and assistants Tim Butler and Brian Pursche.
Hunt was a junior and a backup guard that season in his first year at Academy High School after his family moved back to Little River-Academy from Rockdale. He was not one of the Bees' leading players; in fact, he didn't play a minute in either of the Bees' two victories at the state tournament after having gotten regular playing time as a reserve throughout the season.
Ahead of Hunt was senior guard Luke Barganier, Academy's outstanding four-sport athlete who was selected most valuable player of the 2A state tournament after making the go-ahead, final-minute basket in each of the eighth-ranked Bees' 49-48 wins – against Peaster in the semifinals and Frankston in the title game. Barganier, who went on to play baseball at Temple College and then in the Houston Astros' minor league system, produced a combined 43 points and 14 rebounds in those games while playing all 64 minutes.
When Hunt looks at the photo of that successful 2002 group, it makes him think not only about the Bees' memorable journey to the state championship but also the life lessons he learned along the way that he's now trying to pass along to Academy's current student-athletes as the athletic director.
“I just think about the team itself. Luckily for me, my office is right here above the gym, and every day I walk in there's a picture of that team right above where I enter, so I just look at all the guys and the faces on there,” Hunt said Monday afternoon as Academy's current boys basketball team practiced for its 3A state semifinal against San Antonio Cole at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hays High School in Buda. “I moved in between my sophomore and junior years, so I was a move-in that year. We grew up here but I moved back. Being a sophomore-to-junior move-in is tough, and those guys took me in.”
As a backup for the Bees' title team, Hunt learned the value of embracing the importance of his specific role and continuing to work hard regardless of how much playing time he received in a given game.
“I've only known how to work hard. I wasn't the best at something. I just knew to give your best effort and however far that takes is how far that takes you,” Hunt said. “I accepted the role that was given on that team, and for me it was that I was behind Luke Barganier. I mean, he's the MVP, a heck of a player and a heck of an athlete. But I knew every day in practice my job was to stop him. My job was to give him the best scout.
“If that's minutes in a game, it's minutes in a game. If it's not, it's not. The thing I've learned the most about that year was teaching kids now as an athletic director how to accept your role. Not everybody can be the star. Only five people can be on the court at a time, and we saw last week at the regional tournament that sometimes minutes adjust on certain people. You may never even step foot on the court, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve any of the recognition for what's happening.”
After graduating from Texas A&M in 2009 and coaching at several high schools, Hunt served as the recruiting coordinator for head coach Chad Morris at Southern Methodist and then Arkansas before he, his wife, Krystan, and their two daughters decided to return home to Little River-Academy in 2018. He was the Bees' offensive coordinator in 2018 for then-head coach Paul Williams, and in May 2019 Hunt became Academy ISD's athletic director after former Bees head football coach Mike Nichols left for a coaching job in Navasota.
The last three basketball seasons have seen head coach James Holt's Academy boys win 77 games and three District 19-3A championships (with a 39-1 combined record) and advance to at least the Region III quarterfinals, highlighted by the Bees' current march to their first state semifinal berth since the 2002 championship team.
Hunt said that when he watches this Academy team play, it constantly reminds him of the guys he played with 19 years ago. For example, take Bees senior guard Kollin Mraz, a one-year starter who doesn't score a lot of points but seemingly does everything else, from grabbing rebounds to tracking down loose balls to passing the ball to teammates to set up scoring opportunities.
“Kollin has a motor on him and a heart and a drive that reminds me of a guy we had on that (2002) team in the starting lineup named Kiel Mitchell. And man, Kiel was energetic – on the boards, on the ground, diving around,” Hunt said. “He had a 'fro (hairstyle), so every time he took a charge it was all over the place. It reminds me of Kollin, because Kiel did not look to shoot. He looked to distribute, he looked to pass, but he was probably one of the most valuable people we had.
“Everybody needs a guy like that, and to see Kollin have success this year in basketball and in football, it's one of those special things you see as a coach of a kid just developing into something awesome.”
Just as junior point guard Darion Franklin is the only non-senior in an Academy starting lineup that includes guards Mraz, Jerry Cephus and Jaylin McWilliams and forward Tanner Rambeau, Hunt said the 2002 Bees started all seniors – Barganier, forward Mitchell, guard Brad Andersen and post Scott Mathieson – except for their point guard, junior Josh Volney. And several of the top reserves on both teams were underclassmen who filled their roles while working and waiting for opportunities to start.
“The kids see the (team) picture and they'll ask me about state, 'Hey, how many points did you score, Coach Hunt?' And I'll be the first to say, 'I didn't play one minute in the state championship tournament, but our practices in between games were very important and our preparation was key,'” Hunt said. “Like I said, I knew my role and what I needed to do and I knew what we needed as a team to achieve what we wanted to achieve.”
The season before Hunt played for Academy's state championship squad, the then-Rockdale sophomore and his parents – both Academy graduates – traveled to watch the Bees' bi-district playoff game in Giddings against Danbury, the eventual 2A state runner-up.
“I went to that game, believe it or not. Being from Academy (originally), my parents and I drove over from Rockdale to Giddings just to watch Academy play, just like all Academy fans do. They travel,” Hunt said. “I sat on the front row, and I watched them lose that game. I could see it on (the players') faces. But I could tell that it was a hump, too. It was the hump that our (current) kids had with Crockett (losing Region III quarterfinals in 2019 and 2020). That was a similarity I saw, now that I look back.
“Going into that next year, I move in, we have a good little run in football and we lost to Blanco, which ended up winning state that year – similar to Hallettsville making it all the way to state (after beating Academy in a first-round playoff football game last November). So losing to those kind of teams in football, now we carry it over into basketball.”
And Remschel, who after coaching became an Academy school administrator and now is Shiner ISD's superintendent, found a very visible way to motivate the Bees' 2001-02 team.
“When we walked into basketball, Coach Remschel had it right when you walk into the locker room, there was this big picture and it was of the Frank Erwin Center,” Hunt said of the University of Texas' arena in Austin that hosted the University Interscholastic League state basketball tournament every year before it moved to San Antonio's Alamodome. “It said, 'Make this gym our home.' The goal was that that was going to be our home court at the end of the year. He started instilling that in our head from Day 1: 'This is our goal and this is where we're going.'
“It's the same drive that our (current) kids have. When I talked to them during the summer, they were like, 'Our goal is to win state in basketball, Coach. We got a chance. We're good. We're all coming back. We're ready to go.' It was the same talk that we had 19 years ago, and we had the confidence of what we were going to do and the path it was going to take. The dedication and the heart, the open gyms, the work on your own, those are the same things our kids are doing nowadays.”
Hunt fondly recalled the large, energetic crowds – 8,950 spectators for the semifinal against Peaster, then 14,285 for the title game against Frankston – that showed up to cheer on Academy's two state tournament games in 2002 at the Erwin Center, known to many simply as “The Drum.”
Hunt also draws many parallels between the Bees' 2002 coaching staff of Remschel, Butler and Pursche – now the head coach of Academy's successful girls basketball program – and the current staff of Holt and assistants Jason Rankin and Chuck Mann.
“The similarities that I see between Coach Holt and Coach Remschel are, number one, they are some of the most prepared guys I've ever seen for a game. And that's not just them; that's also their assistants. Jason Rankin and Chuck Mann do a great job, and our team it was Tim Butler and Brian Pursche. That was Coach Pursche's first year,” Hunt said. “The preparation and knowledge we had going into a game on our opponent was incredible. We knew everything they were going to do, and so does this team.
“I got to experience that Friday night after we beat New Waverly in double overtime. They scouted (unbeaten Winnie East Chambers' win over Lorena in the second Region III semifinal), and we get back to the hotel and we're in a conference room and it's me, Holt, Chuck and Jason and they had film pulled up and had a list of things that East Chambers does from already watching film. Just listening to them giving the kids the gameplan and the scouting report reminded me so much of Coach Remschel and his staff. I think that's what makes me proud as an athletic director, is we've got coaches who are preparing our kids and giving them the best chance to be successful.”
Even though Remschel departed as Academy's assistant superintendent after the 2018-19 school year to become Shiner's superintendent, Holt said Monday that he often still talks basketball with Remschel, whose oldest son, Lane, played basketball for the Bees and would have been a senior this season.
“The great thing about Coach Remschel is he loves talking basketball, so I call him all the time and text him all the time. He'll watch film on the teams we're playing and he'll give me ideas. I'll say, 'Hey, what do you think about doing this?'” said Holt, who helped Ponder win four 2A state championships and finish as state runner-up once during his 11 seasons as an assistant coach there before Academy hired him as head coach in 2016. “When he was here, I'd just walk in his office and we'd talk basketball. He's a little bit farther away now.”
From Hunt's perspective as a former Bees player whose current job is to oversee and support Academy's overall athletic program, the biggest common trait between Remschel and Holt is the effort they put into building strong relationships with the young men who play for them. For Holt this year, that's included leading the Bees through a pandemic-affected season and the winter storm that wiped out an entire week of practice going into the playoffs.
“The thing that a lot of people miss that's very important in coaching is that Holt and Remschel do a great job at relationships,” Hunt said. “They talk to kids about things other than basketball. They build these kids up and talk to them and make sure they're good. They love on them and do a great job of making the team feel like a family.
“I made a comment the other day that, 'Could you imagine having social media when we were in high school?' Kids have to juggle a whole lot more now than we did, and now let's throw on top of them a pandemic and let's throw on top of them a weeklong ice storm where they can't get into the gym. Our kids have fought through so much adversity that I'm proud for them, and I'm also proud of our coaches for handling it and getting them through some difficult times.”