It began with a bang and reverberated for a decade.
Science Hill won its first state basketball championship in 1990, finished runner-up in 1991, reached the semifinals in 1993, and then won back-to-back titles in 1994-95.
The Hilltoppers knocked off nationally ranked Nashville Whites Creek 74-66 in the Class AAA state semifinals in 1990. After beating Chattanooga Tyner 69-52 for the title and finishing with a record of 37-1, the Hilltoppers received their own national ranking at No. 15 in the USA Today Super 25 poll.
Science Hill came within one point of a second straight title in 1991, losing 55-54 to Memphis Hamilton in the finals when a last-second shot attempt rimmed out.
The Hilltoppers returned to the national spotlight in 1994 and 1995 after defeating Nashville Overton (79-62) and Chattanooga Brainerd (77-56) for state titles. They were ranked No. 11 in the USA Today poll and No. 6 in the National Prep Poll in 1994. The following year, they were ranked No. 7 by USA Today.
The performances were unprecedented, the records were astounding, and it was one of the best stretches of basketball in the history of Tennessee. The Hilltoppers made it to the state tournament every year of the decade with the exception of 1992. Their record from the 1989-90 season through the 1989-99 season was incredible: 334-40, an average record of 33-4.
Coach George Pitts was the architect of this dynasty. It’s hard to imagine any program ever coming close to the sustained success of the Hilltoppers in the 1990s.
From the day he walked into the gym as a freshman, Johnson was a set-apart specimen. He played with arguably more effort than anyone in Northeast Tennessee history, allowing him to thrive as a 6-foot-1 post. “The bigger the game, the bigger the competition, the better he played. He was unbelievable,” said one coach. He graduated in 1996 and is No. 2 on the Hilltoppers’ all-time scoring list with 2,188 points. He played collegiately at Massachusetts.
Considered to be a coach’s dream player, the point guard excelled in every aspect of the game. “He knew how to win and made everybody around him better,” said one coach. Williams stands at No. 3 on the all-time scoring list with 1,967 points. He played collegiately at Tennessee, averaging 8.1 points with 3.4 assists and started 56 consecutive games from 1994-96.
A player who got better each year, Johnson hit his stride in his junior and senior seasons. “He was a warrior, a solid all-around player,” said one coach. Johnson was a key part of Science Hill’s state runner-up team in 1991 and scored 1,034 points in his career. The swingman played two years at Tennessee with Williams, averaging 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Few could shoot the basketball with the fluidity of Bristol, who played on the 1990 title team. On the tall side for a true wing, the 6-foot-3 Bristol was a defense-stretching weapon. “He was athletic and smooth,” said one coach. Bristol scored 1,045 points in his career and went on to play at Troy University.
Nicknamed “Nookie,” he was a player who never seemed to get tired. The guard’s stamina set him apart along with next-level skills in ball handling and shooting. One coach said, “He was one of the best players in Science Hill history, and had the best hands.” Bailey scored 1,547 points in his career and was the state tournament most valuable player in 1995 after scoring 74 points with 10 assists in three games. He played collegiately at New Orleans, averaging nine points and three assists in 2000.
Arguably the best true point guard in Science Hill history, Goulds finished less than 10 assists short of Williams’ all-time Science Hill record. And his defensive ability to draw charges ranks near the top in Hilltoppers’ history. He was also a very good shooter in the middle part of the decade and probably ranks in the top 10 among Science Hill’s most gritty performers.
He was one of the most disruptive defensive forces in Hilltoppers’ history. The guard’s lightning quickness helped him produce 16 points and seven steals in the 1994 state championship game. “He was quick on quick,” one coach said.
At 6-foot-5, Fields was a dominating presence at the guard position in the middle part of the decade. He could play any position on the floor, and excel at it. Fields ended his career in the top 10 on the all-time scoring list, finishing with 1,576 points.
When it came to playing well under stress, Collins was a standout. “He never got excited. He was very calm and very consistent.” The guard had one of the biggest plays in Science Hill history, a steal in the final seconds of the state quarterfinal victory over Knox Bearden in 1994. In the semifinals and finals, Collins totaled 19 points, 13 rebounds and three steals.
He was one of the best pure shooters the Hilltoppers have produced. As a junior in the 1994 state tournament , Harman shot an incredible 69 percent from 3-point land, hitting 9 of 13 shots for all of his 27 points.