What a great weekend for junior Mississippi State guard and former Shelbyville Golden Eagle Barry Stewart.
Just three years after helping guide Shelbyville to the TSSAA state championship game where they lost in double overtime, Stewart found himself in a similar situation, except on a much larger stage.
I had the opportunity to speak with Stewart Monday afternoon. We talked about winning the SEC tournament, advancing to the NCAA Tournament and about some of the great memories of his senior year at Central, when he played in the Class AAA state championship game.
The Bulldogs edged Tennessee on national television to win the SEC tournament Sunday afternoon.
Quite a feat, considering Mississippi State had to win four games in as many days to claim the title and automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament later this week.
"Playing four games in that many days was a tough challenge and it will take a lot out of you," Stewart said. "But I was up for it both mentally and physically. I knew what we were playing for."
Stewart has prepared himself for opportunities like that since he first started playing basketball as a youth.
Dedication and hard work is what he's always been about.
Isn't it great to see something good happen to those who have earned it?
Even if you are a "die-hard" Tennessee fan, you had to be happy to see someone local do that well in the SEC tournament.
Stewart represents his hometown in a very positive manner, both on and off the court.
After playing four games in four days in Tampa, Fla., and flying home Sunday night, he told me that he was up late studying.
The demand on the college student athlete is unbelievable. All the practice, travel and games they play is more than a full-time job, not counting all the classwork.
It takes a very determined and dedicated student to handle all of that.
Now he'll get to play in college basketball's "Big Dance."
The Bulldogs face Washington on Thursday afternoon in Portland, Ore.
I asked Stewart to compare his experience playing in the TSSAA state championship game to playing in the SEC tournament championship.
"Playing in both those games were very similar. First, it was one of our goals on each of those teams to play in the championship game. Both teams were also underdogs going into the championship as well."
Stewart has always been a team player, that's the way he was raised, but at the end of both of those championship games he was rewarded for his individual performance.
In the state championship game he was named to the all-tournament team, then named Mr. Basketball.
At the end of the SEC championship game he was one of five players named to the all-tournament team as well.
With all the success Stewart has had at Mississippi State, he still remembers where he came from.
"I still keep up with how the Eagles are doing. I talk to coach (Kevin) Thomas quite often. I know that they had a great year and had a tough loss in the sub-state and I was really hoping they would make it back to the state tournament," Stewart said.
Stewart has a message for all his supporters back home.
"I just feel so blessed," Stewart said. "I just hope I've made everybody back home proud and I also hope that I can be a great example to the younger guys that love to play basketball."
I'd like to take this opportunity to return the favor back to him and speak on behalf of this great community.
Thanks, Barry Stewart, for all the great memories you have provided us thus far....with hopes of many more to follow.
Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.