By Rubin E. Grant
At the outset of the high school basketball season, Mountain Brook boys coach Bucky McMillan knew there was going to be plenty of hype surrounding his team.
With reigning Alabama Mr. Basketball Trendon Watford returning for his senior season, with versatile junior guard Colby Jones transferring from Pinson Valley and with a strong supporting cast, the Spartans were overwhelming favorites to three-peat as Class 7A champions.
To deal with the hype, McMillan decided the Spartans needed to look inward instead of outward. They closed ranks to keep the expectations from becoming a major distraction.
“I think the biggest thing is we were not playing for anybody but the people in the locker room – not for the media, not for friends and not for people who were telling them how good they were,” McMillan said. “We wanted to come out and play our best game after working for long hours with the mindset that, if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work out.”
With eight seniors on the roster, including Watford, sharp-shooting guard Alex Washington and talented forward Lior Berman, the Spartans had plenty of experience to ward off outside distractions.
“We had a good group,” McMillan said. “They were not playing not to lose, but to see how good we could be.”
The Spartans proved to be more than just good, but exceptional. They won their third consecutive Class 7A title, routing Baker from Mobile 61-42 in the championship game to close the season with a 17-game winning streak and finish with a 31-3 record.
Mountain Brook became the first team in AHSAA history to win three consecutive state championships in the organization’s largest classification since multiple classes were added. The Spartans also became just the 10th team in AHSAA boys’ basketball history to win three state championships in a row.
For guiding the Spartans to their fifth title overall — all since 2013 — with him at the helm, McMillan is the 2018-2019 Over the Mountain Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“I feel like we did a lot of things that hadn’t been done before,” McMillan said. “We are ranked No. 5 in USA Today, and that’s never been done by a boys team in the state.
“To win three straight state titles is difficult to do when you’re supposed to win. To win three in a row is so challenging because you can have an off night and get beat. We weathered some storms … and found a way to win.”
McMillan, 35, just completed his 11th season at the helm of the Spartans.
He said there are a few things that make this season memorable, such as a 72-67 victory against IMG Academy from Bradenton, Florida, in the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Florida.
“We were great in-state, but we also beat a great IMG team that is nationally ranked and has five five-star recruits,” he said.
Other highlights McMillan noted were Watford being a McDonald’s All-American, the first in the Birmingham metropolitan area since Buck Johnson in 1982; Watford being recruited nationally and receiving an offer from Duke; Washington heading to Harvard to play football and being asked to join the basketball team; Berman being offered a scholarship by Spring Hill in Mobile but considering walking on at Auburn or Samford; and Jones being recruited by Yale, among others.
“We’ve got guys who are getting recruited by some great schools,” McMillan said. “We have guys who have got a chance to go beyond Mountain Brook High School and do something with their lives in the future. That’s what makes me happy about this season.”
McMillan also reached a milestone in victories. He won his 300th game when Mountain Brook beat Lee-Montgomery 59-48 in the Class 7A semifinals and added No. 301 in the final.
“It’s crazy how fast it’s come,” McMillan said. “I remember talking to George Hatchett, the great Vestavia coach, when we reached 500 wins. I thought to myself, you have to coach a long time to win that many games. I’ve gone from 100 to 200 to 300 in what seems like the blink of an eye.”
McMillan was one of the Alabama coaches last Friday when Alabama’s Boys All-Stars, with Watford on the team, beat Mississippi 107-90 in the 29th annual Alabama-Mississippi All-Star basketball series at Alabama State University’s Dunn-Oliver Acadome.
“I had been asked to coach in it before, but didn’t,” McMillan said. “I decided to do it this year because it was Trendon’s senior year.”
He also will get to coach Watford in the Jordan Brand Classic on April 20 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. “That’s going to be a lot of fun,” McMillan said.