Cadon Buckles is about to represent Hampton on the big stage — twice.
He’ll lead the Bulldogs onto the Murphy Center court for the TSSAA state quarterfinals, but not before taking center stage along with his fellow Class 1A Mr. Basketball finalists Monday.
No matter what happens Wednesday and beyond, Buckles has already secured his place in Hampton’s storied basketball history. He’s only the second Bulldog to be announced as a finalist for the Mr. Basketball award, the other being Nathanael Hughes in 2011.
“That’s something I’m so thankful for that I never really could’ve imagined being a possibility,” Buckles said. “Really thankful to go down there and represent my school, community, family and team.”
Buckles and the Bulldogs made their final Van Huss-White Gymnasium appearance of the year Tuesday night, cutting down the nets to celebrate their Class 1A sectional win the night before at Oneida.
Those fans who couldn’t attend were likely in Murfreesboro supporting the Lady Bulldogs, as this year marked the first time both Hampton teams reached the TSSAA state tournament.
Buckles earned a starting spot as Hampton’s 2 guard early his junior year, and hasn’t looked back since. This season, he’s averaged more than 24 points a game to go with 3.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals.
Of course, his success doesn’t surprise Hampton coach Ned Smith, who’s attended Pearce’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church with Buckles and his family for years.
“Watched him grow up, gone to church with him, and he’s just a great kid,” Smith said. “Great Christian, a great role model for these younger kids. He’s a gym rat too, comes back and shoots an hour or two at night … it’s been awesome just to get to coach Cadon.”
LEADER OF THE PACK
Currently undecided on his college plans, Buckles helped the Bulldogs reach the 1A semifinal round last season. His experience and leadership have been critical this year, being the only returning starter from that squad.
“Two completely different teams, different personalities, but we’ve just adapted and gotten better as the season’s gone on,” Buckles said. ”When our backs have been against the wall in the tournaments, we’ve done a good job just persevering when we needed to.”
Indeed, the road to Murfreesboro was no cakewalk.
The Bulldogs have twice rebounded from losses this postseason. Their 57-53 overtime win over North Greene, led by 1A Mr. Basketball finalist Jason Britton, clinched a sectional berth. Hampton then bounced back from its region championship defeat with a 73-55 win at Oneida.
THE LAST DANCE
After a 60-56 win over West Carroll in last year’s quarterfinal round, Hampton took eventual champion East Robertson to overtime before falling 58-56.
“Just playing on that floor, in that atmosphere, it’s an unforgettable experience. I’m so thankful I get to do it again,” Buckles said. “It’s something people dream about, and getting to do it two times is a blessing.”
And it would’ve been three had the TSSAA state tournament his freshman year in 2020 not been canceled due to COVID.
The Mr. Basketball awards begin at 6 p.m. Eastern on Monday at the Murphy Center.
The Bulldogs open this year’s 1A championships against Humboldt in the quarterfinal round. Wednesday’s tip is set for 3:45 p.m. Eastern.