HARTSELLE — Jay Knowlton doesn’t travel much these days.
A kidney transplant last year and then a battle with COVID keeps him pretty much confined at his Southside home in Etowah County. Knowlton, 45, took an early retirement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
He used the NFHS TV Network to keep up with his daughter Ella’s basketball games for the Southside Panthers.
Knowlton relies on information from his buddies in his hometown of Hartselle to keep up with the Tigers this season.
“Their success brings back a lot of memories,” Knowlton said.
The Hartselle boys advanced to the Northwest Regional finals last year. This year they finished the season ranked No. 1 in Class 6A. They are two wins away from getting back to the regional finals. A regional championship would advance the Tigers to the state tournament semifinals.
That’s where Knowlton experienced a “dream come true” in 1994 when Hartselle won the Class 5A state championship with a 69-61 win over B.C. Rain.
The 6-foot-6 Knowlton was the 5A state tournament MVP, the Alabama Sports Writers Association 5A Player of the Year and The Daily’s big school Player of the Year.
In the recent online contest to select the favorite big school Player of the Year, Knowlton edged out Brody Peebles, star of the current Hartselle team.
“It’s amazing to be remembered after 27 years,” Knowlton said. “It was a pretty good run. I’ll never forget it.”
The Tigers were coached by Don Pouncey. His assistant coaches were Johnny Berry, Keith Wright and Bobby Knowlton, Jay’s father. Joining Knowlton in the starting five were Dan Coulter, Lee Rooks, Shane Hopkins and Micahl Puckett. Markeys Barclay was a key player off the bench.
In 1993, Hartselle got tripped up by Athens, 67-65, in postseason play. In 1994, the Tigers were a team determined to go farther.
“We went to Atlanta and played in a Christmas tournament,” Knowlton said. “It was against some really good competition. We lost our first game and then won our next three to finish seventh in the tournament. That experience set us up for our run.”
Hartselle finished the regular season at 24-5 and then marched through the area tournament, sub-regional round and regional tournament to Birmingham. They edged Southside-Selma, 81-74, in the semifinals. That set up the championship game between the Tigers and the B.C. Rain Red Raiders.
It was Knowlton’s night to shine. He scored 30 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, to lead the Tigers to Hartselle’s second boys state championship ever.
“We had a lot of good players on that team,” Knowlton said. “Everybody had a role and played it well. We left our egos at the door, and that’s what made us a really good team.”
Hartselle finished at 30-5 and closed out the season with a 10-game winning streak.
Knowlton averaged 23 points and six rebounds a game in that championship season. He scored 1,545 points in three seasons where Hartselle went 77-18.
“Jay’s a tremendous high school player. He has a lot of skills that you don’t find often in high school players,” Pouncey said at the end of the season. “He’s been a kind of cornerstone of the program, and he’s been a joy to work with.”
Pouncey passed away in 2018.
“Coach Pouncey was a great coach,” Knowlton said. “We had a really great coaching staff with him, my Dad, Coach Berry and Coach Wright. Being a part of that season with my Dad made it even more special.”
Knowlton went on to play at Jacksonville State where he was a two-year starter. That’s where he met his wife Holly, who played softball at JSU. They have twin daughters Emma and Ella and a younger son, Jack.