LaDarius Brinson still has the memories, from distributing water bottles at every timeout to rushing the floor to celebrate.
Brinson was full of youthful innocence five years ago when the St. Jude boys basketball team, with Brinson as a waterboy, last won a state championship.
“All I can try to do is live up to their expectations because everybody on that team was like a big brother to me,” Brinson said after Tuesday’s 76-59 win over Marion County in the Class 1A semifinals.
“When I was a waterboy, all I wanted to do was win a state championship for St. Jude,” the junior guard said. “We’re one step closer.”
Friday’s 3 p.m. game with Brantley at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center is all that separates the Pirates (27-6) from their expectations.
It also will help determine their place in Jude history.
Where do they rank with the previous greats?
A win and the Pirates can be compared with the 2008 team that featured Mr. Basketball JaMychal Green and several stars. A loss will nix any discussion.
“I hear it, but I don’t hear it,” junior forward Andrew Rogers said.
“Right now, I have tunnel vision. I’m just thinking about one thing.”
Jude, like its most-recent championship team, has been dominating in the postseason.
The Pirates have won their six playoff games by an average of 301/2 points. The 2008 team won its seven by 31.1, with the closest a 72-59 championship win over Sulligent.
“I’m going to go with us,” senior guard Keith Washington said, “even though they had an All-American. This is my team.”
St. Jude, for a third straight game, had a torrid night shooting.
Rogers totaled 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting and Washington had 20 points on 7-of-12. Washington made six straight first-half shots to give the Pirates a comfortable lead.
Junior Tommy Burton was 7-of-8 from the field and added 14 points.
The Pirates, for a third straight game, shot 60 percent.
“All we can do is try to shoot better than 60 percent,” Rogers said. “If not, let’s get better on defense then.”
But that wasn’t too shabby, either.
Sean Wallace had 21 points, Ready Swanigan 17 and DeShawn Riebesehl 13 for Marion County (26-7), which shot 37 percent.
The Red Raiders gave up the first seven points, trailed by 10 after one quarter and by 20 at halftime.
“We’re just going to work these next two days and come out Friday and play St. Jude basketball,” Burton said. If we play St. Jude basketball, we’ll come out with a win.
“That’s what we have to focus on now.”