Hendersonville – The 1972 state champion Hendersonville Bearcats, led by leading scorer Harold Albany, are celebrated in the new movie The Tin Can Man, which will be screened Aug. 5 as a benefit for the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County.
The documentary’s world premiere is Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Hendersonville High’s renovated 900-seat auditorium. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is a $50 donation per person. Proceeds go to the Boys & Girls Club, organizers noted.
HHS principal Bobby Wilkins noted that the filmmaker, Jim Dunnavant of Prep Legends Media, worked for ESPN and profiled many teams nation-wide.
A Bearcat player Dunnavant interviewed explained why the filmmaker chose the underdog 1971-72 Cats. “He never saw a school of our size — really 1A — go on to win a 3A title,” longtime (since 1978) WHKP 1450 AM announcer and board man Henry “Tippy” Creswell said. HHS had about 500 students in the early to mid-seventies and was borderline 1A-2A. The word is that HHS moved up the ranks because head football coach Joe Hunt wanted to prove he could win a state title in 3A, after 2A titles in 1968 and ‘69.
The ‘72 Bearcats are historic as the mountains’ sole boys’ public high school team to win a state basketball title in 3A. The latest area girls’ 3A squad to do so was East Henderson, in 2000.
In 1972, Hendersonville upset heavily-favored Southern Pines Pinecrest 74-63 in Durham to earn headlines “David Slews Goliath.” The cheetah-swift Cats ran past the taller Patriots to pull away in the second half after leading 38-36 at halftime. Madison-Mayodan (M-M), which HHS vanquished in ’72 semifinals, had starters all 6-foot-2 or taller.
But HHS was faster and “blocked out” well to get rebounds. “Race horse basketball was our signature,” three-year starter Creswell said. “Once coach said ‘full court press!, we were off and running. Pinecrest couldn’t make it up the court for the next three possessions. We always knew we’d fill the lanes” to run fast breaks after rebounds, Creswell added. “Our defense was the core of our offense.”
Coach Pardue “emphasized defense. He knew how fast we were. We were successful because we ate and slept basketball” and often practiced on their own. Also, “we were conditioned. Phil Brintnall worked us hard in JV.”
Albany said, “We were quick. We could jump. We had great fundamentals. We didn’t back down from anybody.”
Very recent Bearcat teams harken back to the ‘72 and ‘73 squads in relying on speed, endurance, fierce full-court defense, sharpshooting and sudden point spurts to beat taller foes. HHS was 41-5 in the past two seasons, reaching the 2A state finals in round three under head coach Marvin Featherstone. That was the last Bearcat hurrah for guards Dwight Canady and Keenan Wilkins. They both averaged more than 26 points. Canady is off to South Carolina-Aiken after two summer all-star games. Wilkins transferred to Christ School.
Albany was the sole senior starter in ’71–72. Hendersonville returned four starters and reached the state title game again in 1973. But M-M slowed the tempo to win the rematch, 48-44. HHS made it to the final 16 in ’74 and the final eight in ’75, with Wilkins at center.
Hendersonville won six state hoops trophies in total-in 1948, in 1951 and ‘52, in ‘72, and in ’87 and ’92 when coached by Bobby Wilkins.
The ‘72 Cats launched the legacy of super fast and racially balanced Bearcat squads. It was unique 50 years ago for such a small-town Southern team to start four blacks. Head coach Pardue boldly did that. Creswell recalled the four black starters were all about 5-11 and fast, joining 6-6 great rebounding center Brian Tallent.
“We broke the color barrier,” Albany told the Tribune Sunday. “Coach Pardue got (negative) feedback for that. But he didn’t pay attention.” Albany said, “We all fit in good. We didn’t look at teammates as black or white. We’re all Bearcats. And we’re still teammates today.”
Creswell recalls “how close the starters and the whole team was. We were in an era when things weren’t always good between black and white. But we formed a great friendship” across the entire team. Albany described the starters as “brothers off the court, too.”We went to church, movies, and the barber shop together. We played baseball together. Our parents were close.”
Wilkins, a ‘75 HHS grad, fondly recalls team harmony and strong community support. He was a freshman in ’71-72. Wilkins was among the HHS students in unique court-end seats for the title game. The Bearcats were loud, like Duke’s Cameron Crazies. “Our fans were rockin’ and rollin’,” Wilkins recalled. The last three rounds were in the same large high school arena.
“It was exciting to see so many people fired up,” Wilkins said. “We hadn’t had a state title in basketball in 20 years.” The last HHS state football title was merely three years earlier—now 53 years ago.
Wilkins, whose sons also excelled as basketball Cats, coached HHS varsity from 1984-5 to ‘92-3. He became HHS principal in 2001, a month before the country was shaken by the 9/11 terrorist attack on his birthday.
Personable Wilkins’ mentor was solemn Pardue, the tall Bear Bryant-esque figure after whom the main HHS gym is named. Pardue earned respect with wins and consistent rules. Wilkins said, “He taught me everything I know—about how to handle good athletes and help them become more successful.”
‘Tin Can Man’
Seven of the 1971-72 players united just before Christmas last year. They are Albany, Creswell, Tallent, and Johnny Landrum as starters, and Robert Fain and Jeff Gould as reserves.Albany and Landrum were “wing” small forwards, with Landrum and Creswell guards. These four “all could dribble and shoot,” Creswell said.
Albany, 69, is The Tin Can Man’s title character. “It’s about me. That’s how I learned to shoot balls,” he explained. “When I was five years old, we didn’t have goals. We put up two tin cans as goals.”
“Big A” scored 34 points in the title victory, garnering 46 percent of the 74 Bearcat points. The fourth-year varsity starter averaged 25 points in 1971-72 and about 30 in the playoffs.
“Harold was the thoroughbred. He was our go-to man,” Creswell said. Albany was also a motivator. He dressed ahead of the other Cats for the title game. He put his arms around them, urging victory.
Before the three-point shot was counted, Albany was an outside sharpshooter. Earlier, he was passed-first as a freshman. When playing for Dalton (Ga.) Junior College, “I had to do more off the dribble and getting to the hole.”
Albany patterned his game after the Knicks’ “smooth” and fierce defending guard, Walt “Clyde” Frazier. “I also focused on stopping my man, and was a student of the game. He’d find out which way his man could go best. He then took away the guy’s strong point, pushing him to his weak side.”
Albany conditions year-round. “I’d jog a mile, jump rope and do wind sprints. I challenged myself. If you got tired, I ran you ragged” in games. Albany said he was the fastest in practice wind sprints.
Three Bearcats scored in double digits in the title conquest. Creswell scored 12 points, Landrum 11, and Braswell ten. Sixth man Jim “Wheels” Wheelan, a senior, scored seven. Teams double-teaming Albany “didn’t realize others also shined,” Creswell said.
Above all, “We were unselfish,” he emphasized. “If a person was hot, we’d keep feeding him the ball. Even if struggling, “if you had a high percentage shot, you took it.”
Bill Elmore played for Pinecrest versus HHS. He wrote on Facebook that his Patriots were in “shock.” He said Albany was “fantastic. But Creswell, Braswell, and Landrum were very good, too. We played man to man (defense). Those guys (quickly) crossed half-court, and buried what would have been threes.” He said Tallent was a rebounding machine.
They called Landrum “Pearl” after Frazier’s slick backcourt mate, “Earl the Pearl” Monroe. Creswell said, “Johnny had a great (shooting) range,” while Braswell also “penetrated, and could pull up for jumpers.” When young, those three shot at a basket that Creswell’s aunt purposely put up two feet higher than regulation—for an extra challenge.
Creswell often drove the baseline. He was an ace defender. “Coach put me on the (Patriot) leading scorer, Rick Goldston. He led the state in scoring, just ahead of Harold. I shut him down.” Creswell had the team’s bushiest afro hairdo.
Braswell was known as “Nut” since age four, when Creswell saw him breaking pecan nuts falling from a tree he sat beneath. Dennis’ son, Darrell Braswell, also won a state title, as HHS point guard in ‘91-92. Darrell was a football receiver for Wake Forest.
Tallent and the late Richardson both played JV hoops for UNC-CH, where Tallent studied business administration. He works for Duke Energy in Charlotte.
Those who buy tickets to The Tin Can Man should print their emailed receipts to serve as tickets. To buy $50 tickets, call 693-9444 or go online to www.bgchendersonco.org.