By Evan Dudley
Mountain Brook’s Trendon Watford had been tormented by the Baker defense early – missing his first three shots of the game – when an opportunity presented itself to reassert his reigning Mr. Basketball status.
Teammate Alex Washington had extended the lead to four points late in the opening period, but Baker’s Jalen Lilly got open after the ensuing inbounds pass with the intent to swing momentum back to the Hornets.
Watford anticipated Lilly’s cut, snatched the ball away and found an open Carter Sobera. The shot bounced off the backboard, but Watford was there with the rebound and layup to push the lead further while letting the almost 14,000 spectators know what was about to transpire.
The Spartans, 31-3, trailed only two minutes as they claimed their third consecutive state title with a 61-42 rout of the Baker Hornets in the Class 7A boys state final Saturday at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
Mountain Brook is the first team in AHSAA history to win three straight titles in its largest classification and finishes the season ranked in the top five nationally. The Spartans were a win shy of claiming three straight championships from 2013-2015, but they put it together this season for the program’s fifth overall title.
“I woke up today wanting a chance for history to repeat,” said head coach Bucky McMillian, who won his 301st career game with the Spartans. “Either Baker would win for the first time today, or Mountain Brook would have a three-peat.”
Watford transferred to Mountain Brook his freshman year and was quickly recognized as one of the top players in the state. He was named a McDonald’s All-American this season and capped his senior year against Baker with 22 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks while hitting 12 of 13 free-throws in the game to earn state tournament MVP honors.
Watford finishes his career as the AHSAA’s all-time rebound leader, more than 3,000 points and a double-double average with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m pretty speechless right now,” Watford said. “Coming over in ninth grade, I never thought I would be able to win three state championships. I thank God for it.”
Despite Watford’s talents, Mountain Brook is not a one-man team.
Washington, a Harvard commit in football, finished the title game with five points and five rebounds after leading the Spartans in their semifinal win over Lee-Montgomery. The senior has known Watford his entire life and says his presence only heightened his own prowess on the court.
“I’ve been playing with Trendon since I was little,” Washington said. “It pushes you because he’s always going to bring his best, so you have to bring yours.”
Watford may grab more headlines and recruiting interest, but McMillian is just as impressed with Washington as any other player he has coached during his career.
“How many people thought that a team in Alabama that is nationally ranked has a point guard that is going to Harvard next year?” McMillian said.
Washington and Watford were not the only seniors to shine during the Spartan’s three-peat performance, however, as Lior Berman finished his career with 19 points and eight rebounds in the title game win over the Hornets.
“It’s a special thing to be a part of this program,” Berman said. “Growing up I would go to all of the games, and it’s what I always wanted to do.”
Football may be the state’s favorite sport, but basketball has been making a strong case for itself the past few seasons, thanks in part to programs such as Mountain Brook’s. The Spartans, along with other top programs in the state, routinely play in larger tournaments out-of-state to gauge their ability to compete in the playoffs. But McMillian said the toughest trials usually have been within state lines as the sport has grown.
“Alabama is underrated in terms of basketball,” he said. “We’ve played the best teams from all around ,but some of our hardest challenges have been right here in Alabama.”