By Rubin E. Grant
From the moment he took over as Mountain Brook’s boys basketball coach last summer, Tyler Davis told anybody who would listen that his team’s goal was not to win a state championship.
Sure, the Spartans won five state championships under his predecessor, Bucky McMillan, between 2013 and 2019, becoming the dominant basketball program among large schools in the state.
Davis was an assistant coach for each of those titles, but he didn’t come in saying he wanted to win a state championship in his first season.
It didn’t matter. His team won one, anyway, last week at UAB’s Bartow Arena in the 99th AHSAA State Basketball Championships.
After surviving a triple-overtime thriller in the Class 6A semifinals with a 66-63 victory over Eufaula, the Spartans claimed their sixth state championship with a 56-43 victory against Spanish Fort in the title game.
“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Davis said after a few days of reflection. “We don’t ever set out to win a state championship. We tell our players to win the day and keep doing that over and over.
“We showed huge improvement from the beginning of the season to the end. We developed great chemistry and confidence, and by the time we got to the state tournament, we were ready to be successful and win a state championship.”
The title came after the Spartans dropped down to Class 6A this season. They had finished as Class 7A runners-up in 2020. Spanish Fort was making its first state finals appearance.
Senior forward Rayven Turner scored 14 points and collected four rebounds to lead the Spartans (30-6) to their win over Spanish Fort (28-4). He was named the Class 6A state tournament MVP.
Turner was ineligible last season after transferring from Jefferson High in Portland, Oregon, so this was his only season playing for Mountain Brook.
“I’m going to remember the crowd going crazy and being around my teammates when the buzzer went off and being able to hold that blue map (championship trophy),” Turner said.
Turner, senior guard Bo Barber and sophomore center Julius Clark each sank two free throws in the final minute to seal the win. Clark finished with 12 points, Ty Davis, the coach’s son, made three 3-pointers to finish with 11 points, and Barber had seven, all coming on free throws. He also had four assists.
Barber, a transfer from Homewood, was named to the all-tournament team. He had 15 points, going 10 of 14 at the free throw line, and had four assists and two steals in the semifinal victory over Eufaula. Turner had 10 points and 13 rebounds in that game.
Putting in the Work
“The championship means all the hard work we put in paid off,” Barber said. “I think we were one of the most under-rated teams in the state. We didn’t have any SEC-caliber players or other (NCAA) Division-I players, but we had a bunch of guys who bought in and just worked hard every day.
“I’m going to remember what a tough year it was with COVID and everything, but also one of the best basketball experiences of my life.”
Coach Davis praised the play of Turner and Barber in the Final Four.
“We had great team balance throughout the season with seven different guys leading us in scoring at different times, so that shows how unselfish our team was, but those two guys are dynamic,” coach Davis said. “Rayven was our leading scorer for the season and the guy we would go to in key situations. He never showed any panic, and that shows in his personality.
“On any successful team, whether it’s in high school, in college or in the pros, you have to have a great point guard and that’s what Bo was for us.”
The Spartans closed the season with 19 consecutive victories, with their last loss coming to Hoover on Dec. 30.
Coach Davis was pleased to win a state championship after the scrutiny he faced following McMillan.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I was with Bucky, but after he left for Samford, I took ownership of the program. I love Mountain Brook basketball and I wanted to be a part of it, calling the shots.
“To be able to win a state championship in my first season is great because some people said we couldn’t do it without Bucky. So, we’ve gotten that monkey off our backs.”