Like fingerprints, championship teams are distinct. Every winner isn’t a dynasty. One-year wonders exist. Upstarts can be just as impressive as repeat champs.
This week, two high school basketball teams from our sliver of Alabama illustrated those points perfectly. Spring Garden’s girls and Sacred Heart’s boys each won a state championship in Birmingham, but the teams and how they prevailed couldn’t be more dissimilar.
Spring Garden presented coach Ricky Austin with his fifth state championship, a remarkable feat for that small school from that proud Cherokee County community. Lingering disappointment from last year’s title-game defeat drove Austin’s squad to this season’s success, a drive marked by character as much as skill.
“We won this year because we lost last year,” Austin said.
Sacred Heart, the tiny private Catholic school at McClellan, recorded its fourth straight state championship in its fifth straight Final Four appearance under coach Raphael Graves, a former Anniston High School player who has built a basketball machine with rosters consistently featuring Division I-level starters and others who seem equally talented. Diante Wood, the Cardinals’ senior standout, will play next year for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
“This year, since we lost (former standouts) D.J. (Heath) and Kevion (Nolan), everybody was like, ‘Oh, you all aren’t that good this year. You’re not going to be able to do it without them two,’” Wood said. “That just brings fuel to our fire.”
Spring Garden’s teams often win with pluck and toughness, traits of Austin-coached units.
Sacred Heart’s teams often win by overpowering opponents with a deep bench and skill.
Both are talented and well coached. Both faced challenges during the season. And both brought state championship trophies back to east Alabama, again. We applaud them and are eager to see what magic they’ll create next season.