By Blake Ells
The Mountain Brook Spartans proved in March that they were the best basketball team in Alabama, and over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, they gave evidence they were arguably the best team in Georgia, too.
Bucky McMillan’s team returned from the Holiday Hoopsgiving Tournament in Atlanta with a 79-62 win over last season’s Georgia AAAAAA runner-up Norcross High School and a 59-45 victory over reigning Georgia AAAAAA state champion Langston Hughes High School.
That run comes after knocking off Georgia’s South Cobb High School in the Spartan Turkey Jam. South Cobb made the Georgia AAAAAA semifinals last season.
Head coach Bucky McMillan touted his team’s prowess against Georgia foes.
“It’s obviously good for our program and our school,” he said. “But it’s really good for our state. I don’t think Alabama high school basketball gets the credit that it deserves. If you ask most people, they’d probably tell you that high school basketball is better in Georgia. There are a lot of places that have a lot of talent, but for our team to do so well against teams from a state that has such a plethora of talent – that felt good to represent our state.”
The team returned home to face a daunting road schedule against some of the best teams in Birmingham. They’ll travel to Wenonah, Pinson Valley, Clay-Chalkville and Parker in succession before hosting Ramsay and Huntsville’s Randolph. They’ll spend the holiday break in Fort Meyers, Florida, at the City of Palms Classic and in Huntsville at the Huntsville Times Classic.
McMillan’s team is still young. Just four seniors lead the group – Britton Johnson, Hamp Sisson, Sean Elmore and William Lineberry. Two of the Spartans’ top contributors are underclassmen. Junior Trendon Watford had 36 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 9-of-12 from the field with 29 second half points, and sophomore point guard Paulie Stramaglia dished out 11 assists.
“As a freshman, (Stramaglia) was making plays in the fourth quarter of the state championship that helped us win the game,” said McMillan. “He can take over a game without ever scoring. He knows where the ball needs to go; he knows how to create for others.”
It’s a talented young group that has gained a lot of valuable early season experience on its way to a hopeful state championship repeat.
“Irons sharpen iron,” said McMillan. “We want to play against really tough opponents. At the end of the year when you’re in the tournament, if you haven’t seen that, if you haven’t been in any real fights, it’s not gonna be easy.”
But as talented as the Spartans remain on the court, McMillan is most proud of his team’s character. It’s a group that has three players with ACT scores of 34, 34 and 35, and Johnson is a National Merit Finalist.
“I feel very fortunate to be the coach of this team,” McMillan said. “They do everything right. They practice, they work hard, there’s no ego, there’s no selfishness. They’re just a bunch of dudes. It’s a fun group. When you’re in the grind, sometimes you don’t take time to enjoy it, but I remind myself every day that I need to enjoy this group. It’s a special group of players, and I don’t just mean talent; it’s a special group of people.”