By Blake Ells
Mountain Brook won its fourth boys basketball state championship in six years Saturday in a dominating 73-49 victory over Mobile’s McGill-Toolen.
The Spartans were led by junior Trendon Watford’s 26 points, 12 rebounds, five blocked shots, three assists and one steal.
Senior Sean Elmore complemented that with 20 points, sparked by 6-of-10 from beyond the arc, and eight rebounds. Seniors Lior Berman and Britton Johnson had six points each.
“Great competitors play against great competition on big stages,” coach Bucky McMillan said of Elmore. “He’s an elite competitor. He finds something deep inside of him and always brings something that’s needed for our team.”
Watford was the tournament MVP. He has a senior year remaining, then he’ll be playing Division I basketball. Elmore earned All-Tournament Team honors alongside fellow senior Lior Berman.
McMillan’s 2017-18 state championship team is special to him. It’s a team that accomplished much more than a state championship; more than wins against Georgia’s Norcross by 20 points, Archbishop Molloy by 30 points and Atlanta’s Langston Hughes. This team defeated the 6A champions, Carver. This team beat the 4A champions, Cordova. This team beat the 1A champions, Sacred Heart. They became a team and a program where no one thought this was possible as little as six years ago. But the 2017-18 Mountain Brook boys basketball team was much more than an undisputed champion; they were great people.
“We had four seniors this year,” McMillan said. “Three of them are National Honor Society members. Two have signed in-state Division I athletic scholarships. Two are Eagle Scouts. Two scored a 35 on the ACT. One scored a 34 on the ACT. One has a 4.53 GPA. One has a 4.37 GPA. One has a 4.1 GPA. One is a National Merit Finalist. One is a National Merit Semifinalist. One is the recipient of the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship for 7A. And one is the My68 Scholar Athlete of the Year. That’s four guys,” he said, laughing. That’s four guys. That’s crazy.”
McMillan took over the Spartans program in 2009. Since then, he’s bucked a stereotype that Mountain Brook couldn’t be a basketball school. And sentimentally, he has done it at his alma mater; McMillan was part of the class of 2002.
“I went to Mountain Brook Elementary the other day; I had to go for a health screening,” said McMillan. “And I had not been there in 22 years. I asked the assistant principal there if I could just walk around. I just wanted to see the school. And they said, ‘Man, come on. We’ll take you around. Which was really nostalgic.”
McMillan knew when he was 5 years old that he wanted to play college basketball. And his dad told him, “If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to practice a minimum of two hours every day.”
So he did. When he was sick. During the holidays. During Spring Break. Two hours. Every day. And McMillan earned an opportunity to play for Coach Duane Reboul at Birmingham-Southern College when the Panthers were still competing at the Division I level.
“When I did that, it was unheard of,” McMillan said. “To be good at basketball at Mountain Brook and to want to try to be good at basketball. People would laugh at me. It’s not what you do at Mountain Brook. Why are you wasting your time doing this? Maybe baseball. Maybe something else. It just wasn’t a basketball culture.”
McMillan changed that. When he toured that elementary school four days before the Spartans won their fourth state championship, he really began to notice it.
“When we were walking around, I noticed, 40 percent of those boys were wearing neons,” he said. “This was kindergarten through 6th grade. And I’d say 70 percent of them came up to me and said, ‘Hey coach Bucky, how’s it going? Who we playing next week?’ Asking questions about who we’re playing, asking questions about our players, telling me they’re coming to the civic center. That was moving to me. Because I can remember being them. And wanting that so bad, and it wasn’t there. It touches me.”
The Spartans will take a few weeks off and begin their quest toward repeating soon. They’ll obviously have Watford, but they’ll also have the assistance of Alex Washington – who has also played in two state championship games – and Paulie Stramaglia, who has been playing since ninth grade. Berman also returns.
Mountain Brook alumnus McMillan, at just 34 years old, has changed the culture of basketball for the Spartans. ❖