Hatton’s run this season to the Final Four was magical for innumerable reasons. However, none probably enjoyed it more than head coach Justin Henley.
In 1999 Henley helped lead the Hornets to the Final Four as an All-state player.
22 years later he did it again, this time as a first-year head coach.
For that Henley was chosen as The Moulton Advertiser county coach of the year.
“I don’t have many words to describe it,” Henley said. “To be able to help and watch these kids do something that I did 20 years later. It’s been unbelievable.
It was always in the back of his mind, a dream of returning to Hatton. But Henley admits he never expected this.
“A part of me always thought I would end up back at Hatton, but not in this capacity. Now with us going having the success that we did,” he said. “I always wanted to coach, and I been blessed to do that at many places, but high school and collegiate. Coming back home to Hatton was something I thought could happen at the end of my career. But it happened a lot earlier than expected and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Hatton ended the season 18-8, winning their first area championship since 2004 and advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 1999 in the process.
Many thought a first county championship since the 1970s would be in the cards as well, until Hatton was upset in the first round of the county by East Lawrence.
Despite that loss though, Henley said the game was a crucial point in the Hornets season. “It’s hard to pick any one game that was a turning point, but that loss to East Lawrence I think really opened our kid’s eyes,” Henley said. “We had been playing well going into the tournament and had already beaten East Lawrence twice. I think that loss helped our kids understand that we were good enough to beat anybody, but if we didn’t show up to play it could be tough.”
Hatton then went on a stunning run through the postseason, which included back to back double-digit comebacks to defeat Cold Springs in the Sweet 16 and Sheffield in the Elite Eight.
“Tough guys win ball games,” Henley said. “That’s something we preached all season and it became more evident the further we went.”