By Rubin E. Grant
When Mountain Brook took the basketball court at Hoover last Thursday, the Spartans had one big advantage, namely senior forward Trendon Watford.
Watford at 6-foot-9 created a matchup nightmare for the Bucs, whose tallest starter was 6-4 senior forward C.J. Melton.
The Bucs tried everything they could to contain Watford, at times double- and triple-teaming him in the post. But none of it mattered. Watford was simply too dominant, scoring 30 points and collecting 17 rebounds to lead the two-time defending Class 7A champion Spartans to a 63-49 victory.
Watford did his damage inside and outside. On the post, when Hoover was slow getting help to his defender, Watford simply took a pass and scored easily. And when things got too crowded underneath the basket, he drifted to the perimeter and knocked down two three-pointers. He also had a few put-backs, including a thunderous dunk.
“I knew they had smaller guys,” Watford said. “What I wanted to do was play inside and out. I feel I’m pretty good either way.”
Mountain Brook coach Bucky McMillan knows opponents have a difficult time matching up with Watford, the state’s reigning Mr. Basketball.
“He’s dangerous just about anywhere on the court,” McMillan said. “If you put a smaller player on him, he’s just going to turn and shoot, and if you put a bigger player on him, he can take them outside and knock down 3’s or drive by them because he can handle the basketball.
“That’s why he’s called a 5-star prospect.”
Hoover coach Charles Burkett knew going in that the Bucs didn’t have an answer for Watford, who has narrowed his list of college choices to Alabama, Memphis, LSU and Indiana.
“Trendon was the difference,” Burkett said. “We fought hard and tried to hold our own, but with his size and ability, he just overwhelmed us.”
Senior guard Ahman Ellington led Hoover with 24 points, but he struggled from 3-point range early on, and 13 of his points came in the fourth quarter, when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
“Our margin for error is so slim against good teams that we can’t miss free throws and open shots like we did,” Burkett said. “We’ve got to be more consistent.”
Mountain Brook (17-3) entered the game fresh off two impressive performances in out-of-state tournaments in December, winning four of six games. The Spartans went 2-1, including a 72-67 victory against nationally ranked IMG Academy, in the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Florida. They also went 2-1 in the Hoops City Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The trips proved costly because junior point guard Paul Stramaglia suffered a season-ending knee injury when he tore his ACL.
“We’re working on some things to try to get better without him,” McMillan said. “We’re going to have to do it collectively. Paul was our hardest-playing and toughest player. His effort and intensity rubbed off on the other guys.
“But this is not our guys’ first rodeo. They understand what they need to do.”
On Friday, Mountain Brook routed John Carroll Catholic 49-19 with Watford scoring nine points while playing only seven minutes in the first half. He didn’t play in the second half.
Despite the loss to the Spartans, which left the Bucs with a 14-7 record, Burkett is encouraged about what he has seen from his team this season.
“I think we’re playing good, solid basketball,” Burkett said. “We just ran into one of the best teams in the state. It was a good measuring stick for us to see how far we’ve come in two months. I’m satisfied where we are up to this point.”
Both the Spartans and Bucs opened Class 7A area play Tuesday night. Mountain Brook visited Spain Park in Area 6 action and Hoover traveled to Oak Mountain for an Area 5 game.
If the Spartans and Bucs meet again, it would be in the postseason.