In the week following the Pickerington Jaguars Purple Team's state championship, none of the players or coaches was tired of talking about the feat.

Players, past and present, on the Pickerington Special Olympics basketball team hadn't so much as sniffed a trip to the state semifinals in the program's 20-year history.

The team also accomplished a collective goal coach Bryon Beresford set at the start of the season despite a history short on big wins.

"I'll remember it for a long time -- like forever," said 23-year-old Zachary Miller, who hit the team's final shot in a 42-38 state championship win over Paulding County on Feb. 23.

Since taking over the Jaguars' Black Team and the Purple Team last season, Beresford worked to teach fundamentals of the game and team concepts such as passing to open shooters or moving the ball to create an open shot.

Likewise, he emphasized how each man on the court had responsibilities on defense and in rebounding that, if done correctly, would help the team succeed.

Those concepts shined through as the team played regular-season games to qualify for the state final four, and they rang out as players recounted the experiences that led to a 50-29 win in the semifinal over Hamilton County and the eventual championship win.

Nick Moore, 29, recalled how he "nailed" a decisive 15-foot jump shot to put the Jags up 40-38 in the championship, but that recollection came up well after he spoke about how his teammates overcame foul trouble and praised the contributions of role players who came off the bench to play.

"We weren't getting the greatest calls and we had to get past that," Moore said.

Like team members' parents on the eve of their Final Four trip to Bowling Green State University, Moore also credited his coach for molding the team into champions.

"I don't know what we'd do without Bryon," he said. "He brought us a long way and brought us together."

Beresford said he was exceedingly proud of his team, especially how the players came together for the championship.

To neutralize Paulding County's size, which included a center who at roughly 6 feet 5 inches tall was several inches taller than the Jags' biggest player, Beresford gathered his team in a hotel conference room after their semifinal win.

He taught them a new defense they hadn't practiced all season.

Bryndan Jones, 23, was instructed to play in front of Paulding County's biggest player, while one of the Jags' guards played the top of the zone and the remaining three defenders would play behind the opposing team's big man.

Although two players fouled out and sixth-man Tahmid Ahmad was forced to sit after getting tangled up with a Paulding County player, the defense stymied their opponents.

Beresford said the teamwork in the championship was a carry over from the whole season, including the semifinal when five players came off the bench when the Jags were trailing 4-2 and immediately sparked a 26-0 scoring run going into halftime.

"The whole season, I made sure we played even minutes between our players," Beresford said.

"It really paid off because they weren't scared when they got in (in the semifinal games) and they also were in shape.

"Both the games were 100% team wins."

As much as the games themselves, the send-off by the Pickerington community and the on-court celebration immediately following the championship win were moments Beresford and his players said they would savor.

In a town accustomed to winning high school state championships and seeing athletes go on to play in college and the professional ranks, its residents gave an outpouring of love and support that included lining state Route 256, from the Giant Eagle grocery store to the Tractor Supply Co. store, with signs cheering on the Jags.

Gorman's Body Shop owner David Gorman, a Pickerington resident, had posters of the Jags' players made and they were on display for the procession and at the semifinal games.

"It was really cool," said 12-year-old Kage Beresford. "I was really excited that people finally know my team, the Pickerington Jags.

"By my school at Lakeview (Junior High School), there's a sign that says, 'State Champs Jaguars.' "

Miller, whose family soon will move to Houston, said it was "awesome" to be cheered on as the team headed to the semifinals.

"We waved to our teachers and our friends," Miller said. "It was packed out there."

Moore added the send off "got us all fired up," as did the escort by the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office cruisers.

The only thing better, players said, was winning the championship and celebrating with family and other fans who traveled to the games.

"It felt really good," he said. "We all ran over to coach and gave him a hug and told him if it wasn't for him we don't know where we'd be."

Kage Beresford said the championship was especially sweet because "all 10 players" contributed and people supported the team.

"All our families ran on the court after we won," he said.

Moore predicted the Jaguars would make another title run next year.

Nathan Honaker, 19, was content to continue to soak in the "amazing" feeling of this year's championship win.

"We are No. 1," Honaker proudly declared.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate