Tommy Burton watched his old team do it. Now, he wants his new team to win a state championship, too.
While most of the St. Jude boys basketball players can point to their experience at last year’s state tournament to help them tonight, Burton and Andrew Rogers will be experiencing it for the first time.
Burton is a first-year Jude player who was at East Memorial last year and gleefully tracked East Memorial’s AISA championship run two weeks ago.
Rogers is a first-year Jude player who sat out last season to become eligible to play for the Pirates.
Both play major roles for St. Jude (26-6), which faces Marion County (26-6) at 7:30 tonight at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
“I’m excited because I’ve never been,” Rogers said. “A lot of people are telling me what to do and what not to do now that we’re going to Birmingham, but I’m trying to stay focused.”
Rogers is a junior and Burton a sophomore. Both average double-figure points for Jude.
Rogers, after transferring from Escambia County and sitting out as a sophomore, also averages double-figure rebounds. Burton, because he moved from the AISA to the AHSAA, was immediately eligible. He’s Jude’s sixth man.
“There’s more competition and it’s more fun,” said Burton, who had a brother graduate from Jude. “Playing against the best players in the state helps you take your game to the next level.”
Rogers played a small part in last year’s team, though he wasn’t able to play.
“I was a manager, and I was a lazy manager,” Rogers said. “It’s like being that one kid on the playground who couldn’t play. You can only sit there and watch.”
Rogers said he was aware he would have to sit out a year before deciding to move from Escambia County. He lives with an uncle. His parents remain in Escambia County.
“They all wanted to make life better for me,” Rogers said. “It was a real easy move for me to make. I don’t have a problem saying good-bye.”
Rogers said he hasn’t closely kept track of Escambia County, which is playing in the Class 4A semifinals Thursday.
Burton, because of the proximity to East Memorial and his close friendship with East Memorial star Jaylen McCoy, stayed abreast of the Wildcats.
Last year, he and McCoy were part of a state semifinal team.
“When they won their championship, I was proud of them,” Burton said. “He (McCoy) told me it’s time for me to get mine.”
Both fit in quickly and helped Jude continue its state tournament habit. The Pirates, over the last 20 years, have won 10 regionals and hoisted three state championship trophies.
Last year, St. Jude lost to Cedar Bluff in the semifinals. This year? To be seen.
“Andrew paid his dues and sat out, and I know he’s thankful to have an opportunity to play,” Jude coach Earl Taylor said. “Tommy has been to the semis, but not with us. It’s good that he has that experience, and he’s said it makes him hungrier.
“I hope it helps both of them be prepared.”