By Lee Davis
Journal Sports Writer
Hoover junior guard Brannon DeFore literally has the sport of basketball in his blood.
DeFore’s father, Matt, was a star at Berry High School in the 1980s. His grandfather, Lee, earned All-Southeastern Conference honors at Auburn University in the 1960s.
But it’s quite possible that the elder DeFores never took a shot with as much on the line as the one Brannon fired last Friday morning.
Playing in the Class 6A boys semi-final for the first time in their history, the Bucs found themselves trailing top-ranked Carver of Montgomery 60-57 with eight seconds remaining at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
After a timeout, Hoover coach Charles Burkett put his plan into action. DeFore was the logical choice to take the last shot, since he had bagged a crucial bucket in the Bucs’ dramatic win over cross-town rival Spain Park in the sub-regional. As the play unfolded the ball went to DeFore, who dribbled behind the three-point line and shot the ball toward the basket an instant before the buzzer sounded. The potentially game-tying shot seemed to have a chance, but didn’t quite make it, as the Bucs’ state championship dreams fell just short.
“I had a good look,” DeFore explained later. “It was a makeable shot, it just didn’t fall.”
The dramatic ending climaxed a back and forth battle that lived up to the pre-game hype. The lead changed hands no less than 10 times and the score was tied on nine different occasions, including a 33-33 deadlock at halftime. Carver went on to defeat Hazel Green 61-56 and claim the Class 6A title the next day.
“This game was everything we thought it would be – and more,” said Burkett. “I thought it would come down to one or two plays. It did, but unfortunately, they went against us.”
Hoover hurt itself with two turnovers in the final minute. The Bucs led 57-56 after the first, but fell behind 58-57 after the second. “The talent level of Carver may have hurt us late in the game,” said Burkett. “So did their size.”
Junior guard Devon Earl led Hoover with 18 points. Earl’s defensive assignment was to guard Carver’s Craig Sword, who has already committed to Mississippi State. And while Sword bagged 18 points and four steals, Earl had his share of big plays. The biggest may have come with 3:28 to play, when he snared a pass intended for Sword, drove for the basket and drew a foul. Earl then sank two free throws to give the Bucs a temporary 51-50 lead.
DeFore ended the game with nine points. Eric Dansby and Kaleb Baugh each finished with seven for the Bucs. Sam Hutcheson totaled six and DeOntaye Curtis chipped in five, most of which came in the final three minutes. Carver’s Jeremy Johnson led all scorers with 20 points.
The Wolverines showed respect for Hoover’s ability to shoot from long-range by consistently guarding the three-point line. “Their size was a big deal today,” said DeFore, echoing his coach. “They were determined to guard the (three-point) arc.”
Hoover ended the season 31-5, setting a school record for the most victories in a season.
“It was a disappointing way to end the season,” said Hutcheson, a senior, after completing his final game for the Bucs. “But we’ve got some good guys returning for next year. Hoover basketball will be back.”
And perhaps Brannon DeFore will have one more chance at a championship-winning shot.