By Rubin E. Grant
When the Hoover girls basketball team was blown out in its third game this season, head coach Krystle Johnson didn’t raise an eyebrow.
That’s because of the way the 2017-18 season ended for the Bucs. Hoover did not lose to an in-state school until Sparkman dealt the Bucs a 55-54 setback in the Class 7A Northwest Regional final.
“We had won 20 games in a row and then we lost to end the season 30-2,” Johnson said, recalling the painful finish. “We were all shocked. We played our worse game at the wrong time. Our only other loss was to Holy Innocents (from Atlanta), which was nationally ranked.”
So, Johnson took the Bucs’ 53-35 loss at Hazel Green on Nov. 16 in stride.
“We’ve already had a loss,” she said. “I’d rather it happen now.”
The loss to Hazel Green was Hoover’s only defeat in their first seven games. During Thanksgiving weekend, the Bucs traveled to Lebanon, Tennessee, to compete in the John Greer State Farm Classic and posted three impressive victories. They beat Webb School of Knoxville 69-34, host Lebanon 61-34 and Franklin, Tennessee, 79-31.
Johnson likes the way her young team has started the season. The team lost to graduation post players Eboni Williams (Chattanooga), Jennifer Andrew (Montevallo) and Angela Grant (Faulkner University). That trio combined to average 22 points and 20 rebounds per game last season.
“We’re trying to replace all that with younger players,” Johnson said. “We’ve got six returning players and four new players.”
Among the returning players are four seniors, Skyla Knight, Joiya Maddox, Miya Kimber and Melanie Hall.
Three of them start and already have signed college scholarships. Knight is headed to Arkansas-Little Rock, Maddox to Rutgers and Kimber to West Alabama.
Each of them starred in the weekend tournament in Tennessee. In the victory against Webb, Maddox led the team with 15 points and Knight had 10. Knight led the way against Lebanon with 18 points. Maddox had 13 and Miya Kimber 11. Knight scored 21 points and Kimber 14 in the win over Franklin.
The Bucs also have two juniors, Janae Hubbard and Madison Adamson. Hubbard is playing on the varsity for the first time.
“She’s a very aggressive player and our leading rebounder,” Johnson said. “In our first game, she had 16 rebounds against McAdory.”
Adamson is still working her way back from a torn ACL she sustained in May. She started more than half of the Bucs’ game last season.
The Bucs are also without 6-foot-2 sophomore Rachel Hager.
“She twisted her ankle a week before our first game,” Johnson said. “She’ll be out another two weeks. When we get her back, she’ll be our starting center.”
Hager is one of the Bucs’ three sophomores, joining Jada Knight, Skyla Knight’s younger sister, and Karina Garcia Martinez. Jada Knight was on the varsity as a freshman while Martinez was pulled up from the junior varsity just before the start of the season.
Rounding out the roster are freshman Aniya Hubbard and eighth-grader Reniya Kelly, who attends Bumpus Middle.
“Aniya averaged 13 points per game at Simmons (Middle School) as a point guard, but right now we’re playing her out of position because of our injuries,” Johnson said. “We have used her at the two guard and both forward positions. She’s very athletic.”
Kelly is an ultra-quick guard with deft ball-handling skills. She scored 10 points in the Bucs’ opener.
“We’re trying to put people into the right positions,” Johnson said. “We have some versatility. It’s a learning experience because we’re teaching them how to play fast.”
The Bucs are in the midst of a demanding schedule to start the season. They will play host to Ramsay at 6 p.m. Thursday and travel to Fayetteville, Georgia, on Saturday to take on St. Francis from Roswell, Georgia, in the Queens of Atlanta Hardwood Classic.
“It’s not getting any easier,” said Johnson, who guided Hoover to the 2017 Class 7A state championship.
But she hopes it will pay dividends come the postseason.
“As usual, our goal is to win state,” Johnson said, “but right now we’re just trying to get better every day.”