KILGORE — Four banners inside the Kilgore High School gymnasium commemorate the basketball program’s most memorable seasons.
One pays tribute to the 2003-04 squad, which went 26-4 and reached the regional semifinals. Another is for the 1990-91 district champs, while the others followed the 2002-03 and 2007-08 playoff campaigns.
Jerrick Massenburge, a senior, has one problem with the banners — all have the words “Lady Bulldogs” inscribed on them. That’s because the Bulldogs, with a less-than-modest history, have never been able to hang their own.
Things change, though.
“Ever since the eighth grade, I’ve wanted to put up a banner,” Massenburge said.
On Tuesday night, Kilgore appeared in the postseason for the first time in three decades. The Bulldogs took advantage of the opportunity, putting their collective moxie on display in a 61-59 overtime win against Greenville in the opening round.
It was a night Kilgore basketball had been looking forward to ever since 1982 — long before the current players were born, and right about the time coach Jeff Coleman embarked on his illustrious career.
“It makes me feel good about my young men,” Coleman said. “For my seniors, this is the first time they played on a winning team in high school.”
On Friday night, Kilgore (19-14) will continue the memorable run when the Bulldogs meet Manor in the Class 4A area playoffs at Buffalo High School (6 p.m.). The winner will advance to meet either Ennis or John Tyler with a berth in the regional tournament on the line.
“Nobody expected us to do anything,” Bulldogs senior K.B. Brisendine said. “We talked yesterday about how we are going to hang a banner now.”
The prospect of that happening found life prior to last season, when Coleman arrived on the KHS campus after a successful career in the Oklahoma prep ranks. During his 31 years atop OSSAA programs, Coleman filled his resume with 10 state tournament berths and the 2005 Class 4A title.
The energetic coach who seems to swagger in positive confidence decided to take on quite possibly the biggest task of his career — turning Kilgore Bulldogs, historically a powerhouse on the football field, into a winner on the basketball court.
“I knew it was going to be an uphill climb,” Coleman said. “I’d been very fortunate at other basketball programs. Now let’s see if we can build a program. I’d built programs to a certain degree, but never from scratch.”
In his first season at the helm, Kilgore went 12-15 and failed to make the playoffs for the 29th consecutive season. The year served as an introduction to UIL hoops for Coleman, who learned about the Bulldogs’ opponents and has had his players better prepared in 2011-12.
According to Coleman, the defining moments came in the final games of the regular season when Kilgore knocked off tradition-rich Whitehouse (68-61) and league champion John Tyler (64-56) to finish third in District 14-4A.
“That was a program win there,” said Coleman, referring to the JT game. “We had been looking for a program win all season long. We were looking to go out and beat a team we were not supposed to beat.”
Kilgore entered the playoffs teeming with momentum, and the fan base’s renewed optimism made the trip to Wills Point for Tuesday night’s bi-district game. When the overtime clock finally wound down to zero with the Bulldogs ahead by two points, the gym erupted and everyone converged to celebrate the historic triumph.
“It was amazing,” Brisendine said. “It was so loud. It was something you want to be a part of.”
Added Massenburge: “That was amazing.”
Win or lose in the second round, Kilgore boys basketball has already earned a spot to hang a banner.
“What we want to try and do is be a consistent team,” said Coleman, whose squad will join 3A next season. “We will try to have a competitive program, from season to season and year in and year out.”
Notes: On the season, Massenburge leads the Bulldogs with 21 points and nine rebounds a game. Sharod Kincade is second in scoring at 10 points an outing, with Brisendine, Trey Conrod and Nick Orange right behind.