E.A. Sports Today

‘It’s only right’

Sacred Heart celebrates its third straight state basketball championship, school does ‘right’ thing by retiring jerseys of Nolan, Heath

Sacred Heart basketball seniors D.J. Heath (5) and Kevion Nolan (23) are flanked by assistant coaches Brandon Foster (L) and Mook Hutchinson after having their jerseys retired by school officials Friday.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

They came from near and far to recognize the unprecedented accomplishments of the Sacred Heart basketball team, and during the ceremonies they recognized the legacy of the Cardinals’ two most impactful seniors.

The two are inseparable.

The Cardinals formally accepted from retiring AHSAA director Wanda Gilliland the blue map trophy for winning the third straight Class 1A state championship they claimed a week earlier in Birmingham.

But before the assembly was dismissed school officials formally retired the jerseys and numbers of D.J. Heath (5) and Kevion Nolan (23), the two senior guards on this year’s team who have spent the last six years helping change the culture of the program.

The retirement ceremony was a closely guarded secret and the numbers were unveiled with members of the players’ families on stage with the team. It’s better than even-money Diante Wood, the third part of the Cardinals’ Lethal Weapon 3, will have his number (1) retired at the end of his senior season next March.

Together, they have made up the core of four straight Final Four appearances and three straight championships, unprecedented in the Class 1A in the modern era of the AHSAA. Don’t think four in a row isn’t in the conversation.

“We’re going to prepare for it,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “We really aren’t trying to win four in a row, we’re just trying to win the one, which will mean four in a row. We’re going to prepare our hardest to try to do it again, that’s all you can do. If God blesses us and puts us in a position to do it and we win it, we’ll be thankful for it.”

Graves spoke passionately about the focus for excellence Heath and Nolan brought to the program and the impact Sacred Heart has had in his and his players’ lives. He said retiring the players’ numbers was “is only right.”

“My emotions are everywhere right now,” Nolan said. “This is truly dream come true. Me and D.J., we grew up talking about this and for it to happen like that is overwhelming.”

“Stuff like this doesn’t happen where I’m from,” Heath said. “People like me don’t get opportunities to achieve what I’ve achieved without all these people up here. I’m blessed to be in this position. This is overwhelming.”

Sacred Heart principal Charlie Maniscalco said the numbers wouldn’t be worn in the Sacred Heart basketball program again. Knowing what he does about the players, Graves said if somewhere down the road someone were to ask Heath to wear the “5” he believes the guard would probably say yes.

“I don’t think their jerseys are really getting retired as much for their statistics and state championships more than it is for the culture that they brought here,” Graves said. “They did something that wasn’t the popular thing to do. For those kids to do something that wasn’t the popular thing to do and those two jump-started it, I think they’re very deserving of it. It’s only right.”

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