Bucky McMillan has taken his Mountain Brook High School basketball program to its 5th Final Four in the last 6 years. Not only has McMillan gotten his teams to the Final Four, he's won it 3 out of the last 5 years. His teams won Class 6A titles in 2013 and '14 and won a 7A state championship in 2017. This year, McMillan led his team to a 32-4 record playing the toughest schedule in the state, if not the country. His team is ranked in the top 30 nationally and known for being strong in all phases of the game and shoots the lights out of the gym on many occasions. The Spartans are led by the great junior Trendon Watford who is averaging 24 points and over 10 boards, and a quartet of seniors who are the heart and soul of the program. It's an extremely high character, high achiever group that does the right thing all the time. I spoke with Bucky yesterday and talked about his team and their challenge today as they face a highly athletic Central-Phenix City team that finished their season at 21-4. The game will tip-off at 1:30 PM today at Legacy Arena at the BJCC in the B'ham. In the other Final Four matchup, Sparkman, 30-4, a team that features fast, athletic guards who throw the Nolan Richardson-Mike Anderson fastest 40 minutes of basketball at opponents, faces off with McGill Toolen, 24-6, at 10:30 AM today. The winners meet in the State Championship game Saturday at 5:45 PM at Legacy Arena.
Here's my conversation with Coach McMIllan.
DW: Bucky, what's been the difference in the team this year?
Bucky: You know we've played the toughest schedule in the state, we've played a lot of great teams this year, both in the state and nationally. Our goal always throughout the year is to keep getting better and our guys have really done a good job of that. We haven't worried about the short term, but building towards the end of the season because we all know basketball is a tournament sport. We've got really, really good leadership. We've got some special seniors. We have 4 seniors on our team, 3 of them are National Honor Society members. Two of them signed NCAA Division 1 scholarships. Two of them are Eagle Scouts. Two of them scored 35 on the ACT. Another one scored a 34 on the ACT. One has a 4.53 GPA. One has a 4.37 GPA, one has a 4.1 GPA. One is a National Merit Finalist, one is a National Merit Semifinalist. One is a recipient of the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship for Class 7A.
DW: Who are they?
Bucky: Sean Elmore (6'2", 175 guard) is very accomplished athletically. He has signed to play basketball at North Alabama next year. He was a Spartan standout for the month recently for his academics, etcetera. He's going to North Alabama. You've got Hamp Sisson (who else? 6'0", 180)) who was the quarterback and is going to Furman next year on an athletic scholarship (football). He's also an Eagle Scout. He scored a 35 on the ACT. He's got a 4.53 GPA. He's a National Merit Finalist and he was a recipient of the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship athlete award for 7A. Britton Johnson (6'4", 180 forward) has a 4.1 GPA, he scored a 34 on the ACT. He's still undecided on college yet, and he's could potentially go play somewhere. He was a National Merit Semifinalist and he was a My Scholar 7A athlete of the year. Then you have William Lineberry (6'4", 180 inside player) who has a 4.37 GPA. He just received the scholar athlete for the month award for our school and he has a 35 on the ACT. Now you've got kids who are stars on our basketball team with Sean, William, and Britton and you have Hamp who plays a big role, he's the 6th or 7th guy off our bench. It's a very unique group of guys and that's just our seniors. That's not even getting into our other players. Trendon Watford (6'9", 225), who is a phenomenal talent, but also a phenomenal guy. He's such a popular guy with everybody. He's a 5 star player who doesn't have a big ego. He plays for Mountain Brook. He doesn't play for himself. He makes the best play every time for Mountain Brook High School. That's the thing that's common for our team. They don't just play for themselves. They play for their teammates, they play for their coaches, they play for their managers on the team and they play for the city. It's really unique. I see these guys and they go and watch the 4th and 5th graders play and they're cheering them on just as hard as the 4th and 5th graders cheer our varsity on at their games. It's been a very enjoyable group to coach. There are not too many teams that'll come along like this. It's hard to find a team to coach with this many good people who are great players. And the thing about it is, they're all best friends. After practice, they'll hang out for an hour and a half having fun. You always hear that high achievers don't like mediocre people or low achievers don't like high achievers. If you got high achievers and low achievers they'll never play well together because they'll all resent each other. You can figure out which ones we have. There is no resentment on our team because they all want to help the team and help each other.
DW: Who are your leaders in scoring and rebounds?
Bucky: Trendon is at around 24. Elmore is right at 10 or 11. Trendon is the leading rebounder, shot blocker, second in assists and steals. He's an NBA talent and a great leader. What makes Trendon so fun to watch is that he just makes the right play every time. One game if he's doubled all game, he may shoot 8 shots and get the ball to the other guys because he believes in them. And because he believes in them, that makes them believe in themselves even more. He's not afraid on a game winning shot to give it to someone else to take the wide open shot. That's the kind of guy he is. He can dominate the game with his passing, his shot blocking, his scoring and his rebounding. He's a great leader. I'm really proud of him. You got Sean Elmore who is a three point shooter and a great defender. He's a very good athlete. He's the guy that is a pit bull on our team. He always does the dirty work. He's never intimidated by anybody. He would play Michael Jordan and still be out on the floor talking to him. You've got Britton Johnson who's made 110 or 111, 3 point shots. He's shooting 46% from 3. That's making 3, 3's a game. He's Mountain Brook's all time 3 point field goal leader. He broke Mario Stramaglia's record. Mario made 87 and he's at 110. He's phenomenal. Paulie Stramaglia has had a great year as a sophomore for us. (Note: Stramaglia contracted an illness on Monday and is a game time decision for the Central game). We'll need him. Alex Washington plays off the ball and at the point. He's a great defender, team player. We played the City of Palms and he played some great games for us. And you've got Hamp Sisson who comes off the bench for us. He's a great defender. We've just tried to use our guys in as many situations as we can. And Hamp's a good offensive player, but he's an incredible defensive player. So I trust him guarding another team's best player. William Lineberry has had a great year basketball-wise. Last year he didn't get much playing time. I told him last year that he might want to play JV, but he wanted to get the experience as a varsity player. And in our last regional game (against Huffman) he scored 17 points and was on the All Tournament team. Someone I'd failed to mention, and he's our second or third leading scorer, is Lior Berman (6'4", 175), who is a junior. He comes in there with Paulie and Hamp. He plays the 4 and 5 position. He's an incredible athlete. He scores about 10 a game. Good 3 point shooter. We're shooting over 40% from 3 as a team. For high school teams, that's phenomenal. They're not many college teams that can do that. It's a great shooting team overall. We're a great passing team, a great offensive team.
DW: Will Paulie be OK for the game?
Bucky: I would really be shocked if he didn't play.
DW: I saw you played Maiter Dei from California and Ranney from New Jersey. How were those teams?
Bucky: They were incredible. We went down to the City of Palms Tournament in December (Fort Myers, Florida). It's an invite only tournament with some of the top teams in the country. And we played Mater Dei and lost by 1 in an incredible game (62-61). They won the national championship last year or the year before. Then we played Archbishop Molloy (out of Queens New York) and they've got the No.1 point guard in the country and a kid going to Wake Forest and they have a 7'4" kid who is the top junior in the country, and we made 20, 3's on'em and beat them by 30 points (82-51). They were ranked No. 12 in the country at the beginning of the year. Two times this year we've made 20, 3's in a game. Then we play Ranney out of New Jersey. They've got the No.5 ranked junior in the country and the No.6 ranked junior in the country starting at the 2 and 3. We couldn't get anything going in the game. We were down by 18 with 6 minutes to go in the game. Something like 50-32. We come all the way back and take our first lead with 1.6 seconds left. They throw it in and hit a 55 footer at the buzzer to beat us. (Ranney won 64-62). I told somebody we're glad that happened in December and not in the playoffs. It meant you could live another day.
DW: What about Central-Phenix City, what concerns you about them?
Bucky: As I told you, we've gone all around the country and played all these great teams. I'm talking about every team, Mater Dei, Archbishop Molloy, this is the most athletic team we've ever played. They have Justyn Ross, who's going to Clemson to play football (as a wide receiver). He's good. They've got a 6'8" player down low who's good. They have a 6'7" guy. They've got a bunch of guys who are 6'4" like Justyn Ross. They're highlight tape looks better than the Lakers. They're really good in transition. We're a better shooting team than they are. They're not a great shooting team, but they're just freaky athletic, shot blockers and an explosive team. They brought everybody back off last year's team, so it'll be anybody's game. On the other side, McGill does a good job, but Sparkman has a bunch of quick guards. It's a 4 team tournament so anybody can win it.
DW: What are the keys to winning this thing?
Bucky: For Central Phenix City, it's about getting back in transition and not letting them get loose. They are an incredible transition team. We have to rebound the basketball against these guys because they are so athletic. We've got to stop them from getting to the basket in the half court. You can say shooting, but if you're not shooting well, you've got to find other ways. We're going to have to do other things if we aren't shooting it well. And I think this team can do it. We emphasize defense and rebounding. If we're able to get past Central, we're going to have to have everybody, regardless of illness, focused to play one of the best games we've ever played because they are tough matchups. Sparkman has quick guards. Central is a bunch of 6'4" guys that can jump out of the gym. Sparkman has a bunch of 6'2" guys that can all play the point. They are really quick and athletic. They will be really good as handling our pressure. McGill is dangerous, too.
Note: Should be pretty sensational. You can likely watch it online on the www.AHSAA.com website on the state championship link. You'll have to sign up for a $9.95 plan with the NHFS site on the championship site. Game time is 1:30 PM today. Mountain Brook battles for another epic season. Trendon Watford is open to everybody. Kansas just offered. Kentucky is in it as are Alabama and Auburn. McMillan said that Carolina and Duke will come on later in the process.