But first, “All glory goes to God,” the third-year Sacred Heart boys’ basketball coach said Tuesday on the state’s grandest stage for high school basketball.
And now, for those annoying little questions.
“In the state of Alabama, when you don’t have a reputation for whatever athletic sport that you’re in, it’s more like you’re irrelevant when it comes to playing,” Graves said. “So, now we’ve made it down to the Final Four and we’re down here and all you hear is, ‘Where are you from? How long has your school been in existence?’ All of that.
“So I have to tell everybody -- 1963, and we’re from Anniston. Now a lot of people know who we are.”
Yes, Sacred Heart has had an athletics breakthrough. The little Catholic school with 50-ish kids in the upper three grades doesn’t have football in a football state but broke through in boys basketball, its highest-profile sport, in 2013-14.
Who can forget Quen Williams’ dramatic, fall-away 3-pointer to beat Class 6A Oxford in the Calhoun County semifinals?
Or the classic county final the Cardinals played while losing to 4A Anniston?
Or the 25-7 record, complete with a romp through the Northeast Regional and the school’s first appearance in the six-classification, dual-gender event the Alabama High School Athletic Association calls the “Final 48”?
Four teams per classification and gender get here, and Sacred Heart was one of the four Class 1A boys teams to make it. Once the Cardinals got their footing in Birmingham’s BJCC Arena on Tuesday, the “heart” in Sacred Heart showed.
Yes, they lost 66-51 to defending state champion St. Jude, but St. Jude could take state in a few classifications. That much became clear as the bigger and longer Pirates seemingly snatched every rebound and tapped every Cardinal pass in the game’s first 12 minutes.
But the Cardinals got their footing, trimming a 42-20 lead down to 48-39. They made St. Jude call that settle-down timeout.
“We thought if we got up by 20, we’d break their will, but they kept playing,” St. Jude coach Earl Taylor said. “That shows what their coach puts in ’em.”
Indeed, the right talent met the right coaches at Sacred Heart.
There’s Graves, who played and coached under Anniston’s Schuessler Ware. Graves played on Anniston’s 2002 state title team and was an assistant coach for the 2009 title team.
Graves’ assistant, Quin Hutchinson, started for Anniston’s 2009 title team and the 2010 team that returned to Birmingham.
When Graves arrived at Sacred Heart three years ago, talented players were in the pipeline.
It was all potential at that point.
“Two years ago, everybody forgot,” Graves said. “We walked into the county tournament, and everybody was laughing because it was a bunch of seventh-graders out there.
“Now, we’re beating them two years later. Once those seniors and juniors graduated, everybody was like, ‘Uh-oh, now we may be in trouble.’”
Wood, just a fifth-grader when Graves arrived, grew four inches in one summer. An eighth-grader now, he was Sacred Heart’s leading scorer Tuesday with 16 points.
Heath, a freshman, added 14 points, including Sacred Heart’s first 12 of the game.
Williams scored 10 points after a 1-for-10 start.
“We came to Sacred Heart in the seventh grade, and we went through getting put out in the first round for two years,” Heath said. “We said we weren’t going to take it anymore. We want to go far, so we got in the gym and went to work.”
Now that Sacred Heart has gone far, those annoying questions go no farther.
Too, it’s nice for Cardinal backers to think about what could be, now that they have everyone’s attention. Maybe that enrollment number can inch closer to three figures.
“As far as people seeing our program and all,” Sacred Heart athletics director Roland Houston said, “this could be an attraction to people.”
Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.