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‘Tin Can Man,’ the story of ’72 HHS championship team, is now available on line

Starters shown with Coach Jim Pardue were Johnny Landrum, Dennis Braswell, Brian Tallent, Tippy Creswell and Harold Albany. [COURTESY OF 'TIN CAN MAN'] Starters shown with Coach Jim Pardue were Johnny Landrum, Dennis Braswell, Brian Tallent, Tippy Creswell and Harold Albany. [COURTESY OF 'TIN CAN MAN']

“Tin Can Man,” the documentary recounting Hendersonville High School’s dramatic march to the state 3A basketball championship in 1972, was a big hit when it was shown for the first time at Blue Ridge Community College last summer.

Now the public can see it on line for the first time. The film’s producer, Keith Dunnavant, is making it available on line for free for three months. He praised the rest of his production team — cinematographer and editor Jonathan Hickman, graphic artist Maggie Hickman, digital media coordinator Joe Beamon, and editor Layla Kahn-Hickman — for their work on the film.

“We’re proud of it,” Dunnavant said. “It’s kind of a world of its own. It’s a story that we believe in because what we do is all about stories that reflect a connection between communities and their team and that certainly reflected on Hendersonville very well. Hopefully, people will watch this and see what my team saw — a really profound story about a community and its team.”

Dunnavant, who also wrote and directed the film, said people here made it easy to tell the story.

HHS principal “Bobby Wilkins was very helpful and the entire current staff,” he said. “The community just opened its arms to us. This would not have happened but for Jeff (Miller). Jeff was the connection.” Dunnavant added a “shoutout to Robert Fain. He was kind of our go-to guy in fact checking and helpful in so many ways.”

Indeed, Fain — a reserve guard at the end of the bench — the  other players, Miller and many other fans narrate the film by sharing their memories of a special year and experience growing up in Hendersonville. Coming just seven years after the mostly harmonious integration of Hendersonville city schools, the basketball season portrayed in “Tin Can Man” is a story much larger than the action on the court.

Jim PardueJim PardueCoach Jim Pardue, who had already built a powerhouse basketball program — advancing to the state tournament four straight years — did something in the 1971-72 season that had never been seen before. He started four African-American players, young men who had been playing together at the YMCA on Saturday mornings since they were boys.

“Yeah, he got a little heat,” Harold Albany said. “But he paid no attention. He did what he felt was good for the school.”

Albany, known as “Big A,” gets the most screen time, for good reason. He was the star. The rest of the starters were Dennis Braswell, Henry “Tippy” Creswell, Johnny Landrum and Brian Tallent, who at 6-6 was the only player taller than 6-feet.

“Harold could get up out of his sleep and make shots,” Landrum said.

“He was what you might call a today generational talent,” Tallent added. “He was extremely gifted not just in shooting but dribbling the ball and eluding defenders and getting to the basket.”

Adjusting strategy to the strengths of his players, Pardue dumped a zone defense and installed a fierce man-to-man that oppressed opponents with an unrelenting full-court press.

“Coach Pardue made sure we were in better shape by consistently running us in practice,” reserve guard Jeff Gould recalled. “Foul line back! Half line back! Foul line back! Full court back! I woke up in the morning saying this. I went to breakfast saying this. I ate dinner saying this. I went to bed saying this.”

HaroldAlbanyHarold AlbanyReeling off nine straight wins to open the season, the Bearcats packed the small high school gym on game nights. Black and white fans mixed together, united in rowdy cheers for a team that had gained an aura of destiny. After losing a game at Tuscola, the Bearcats regained momentum, cruising to the state championship tournament. HHS overcame an 8-point deficit in the second half in the quarterfinals.

“After we won that game,” Albany said, “I had no doubt that we could win it all.”

After putting away Madison-Mayodan in the semifinals, the Bearcats faced heavily favored Pinecrest in the finals in Durham. The taller Pinecrest players took the floor at the same time as the upstart challengers from a small mountain town.

They were “trash talking, pointing and calling us hillbillies,” Landrum said.

“They were pretty cocky and felt like they were just there to accept their trophy,” Tallent said.

Creswell recalled the Pinecrest players mocking their small town: “Hendersonville? Who is Hendersonville?”

Albany remained stoic.

“We can talk all day,” he said. “We’ll settle this on the court.”

Bearcats celebrate championship 3A state championship in 1972.Bearcats celebrate championship 3A state championship in 1972.More than anyone, Albany made sure the settlement went Hendersonville’s way. He made his first three shots of the game, hit 10 of 12 in the second half and finished the game with 34 points.

“I was in a zone and they put two men on me,” Albany recalled. “They forgot about Johnny and Dennis and Jimmy Whelon.” Big A didn’t. He fed his teammates for open baskets against Pinecrest’s 4-on-5 defense. Hendersonville won, 74-73.

Halfway home, the bus carrying the triumphant underdogs picked up a State Highway Patrol escort. When the team reached town, a huge crowd had gathered to greet them.

“It was a moment that spoke to everybody,” cheerleader Debra Rivers Johnson recalled, “and each generation differently.”

Why “Tin Can Man?” The answer to that is in an opening segment of the film. To find out why you’ll have to watch it. You’ll be glad you did.