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Win gets Kimball coach over '02 heartbreak

AUSTIN, Texas -- Forgive Kimball head coach Royce “Snoop” Johnson. He admitted Saturday that he’s kept a decade-old secret.

Back in 2002, Johnson was on the sidelines when his Knights were robbed of a Class 5A championship when San Antonio Jay’s Chris Ross drained a half-court, buzzer-beating shot. Kimball lost, 54-53.

Johnson told reporters after winning last year’s Class 4A title that the 2002 game was out of his mind. Deep down, that loss has stayed with him, silently gnawing at his insides and making him constantly ask, “What if?”

Until Saturday.

Exactly 10 years and a day later, the Knights were on the positive end of a dagger heard around the Texas basketball world. Torrey Henry drained a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining to take the lead from Houston Yates, and Kimball repeated as 4A champion with a 78-75, come-from-behind victory.

“Tonight,” Johnson said, “we got over ’02. We hit the big shot. We’re over it.”

There are plenty of words and phrases to describe Saturday’s impressive win. Vindication. Exorcising of past demons. Silencing harsh critics.

Shocking the world.

Kimball did all of that, and it got the job done against a Yates team that many felt was heavily favored. The Lions were averaging 100.8 points in their first six playoff games. They were back-to-back state champions in 2009 and 2010. Several of the seniors were sophomores on that last championship team.

Yates was a favorite to many. Johnson, however, didn’t feel that way.

“Before the game, I thought we were the favorite,” Johnson said. “Back in ’09, we were talking upset. [Saturday] before the game, we said if we lost, it was going to be an upset.

“All year long, this group of kids has always found a way to step up. That’s what we said start of the fourth. Someone has to make the big shot. They found a way to win and were not afraid to lose.”

What makes Kimball’s win that much more impressive is that the Knights were down five with 33 seconds left to play. Henry hit a 3-pointer to trim Yates’ lead to 75-73 with 29 seconds left. Following a missed free throw, Henry took a pass from Darian Hancock and drained a 20-footer in the corner -- right in front of the Kimball bench -- and hit the biggest shot of his basketball career.

“I knew I had to step in, shoot with confidence and follow through,” Henry said. “I knew I had God on my side, and I let it go.”

While Henry provided the game-turning moment, Shannon Lilly Jr. provided multiple big-game shots that led to Henry’s basket. Lilly scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, including the last two free throws of the night. It was Lilly’s play that not only spearheaded Kimball’s miraculous run but also earned him his second-consecutive state tournament game MVP award.

Lilly, who Johnson called “Mr. Big Shot,” said winning state was special, but defeating Yates was a bonus. He was a freshman when Kimball lost to Yates in the state-title game in 2009.

“I had to do it for my brothers that lost in ’09,” Lilly said. “I know they’re feeling good about it. I wanted to do it for them and the community.”

Kimball left Austin with tons of confidence and the opportunity to gloat -- even though the players chose not to after the game. Knowing that they were the two-time defending 4A champions allowed them to write their own tickets without saying a word.

For Johnson, knowing that the Jay game wouldn’t haunt him anymore made him smile that much brighter.

“We’re not really caught up in the back-to-back [talk],” he said. “I just know that the trophy’s still at home. They know we’re trying to be relevant every year. The kids meet the expectations. They don’t shy away from it.”

Damon Sayles covers Midlands recruiting for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at dsaylesespn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSayles