For St. Jude, this has been 364 days in the making.
Ever since the Pirates claimed the Class 1A state title last season they’ve had one goal: to repeat. They’ll try to complete the repeat at 11 a.m. today in Birmingham against Parrish.
“I said in the press conference after the state championship (last year) that I was ready to do it again,” St. Jude senior center Andrew Rogers said. “Once you get that feeling, you want to do it again. And I hope that the team after this one can do the same thing. It’s good to know that you have a good enough team to keep contending for championships.”
While some teams prefer to start a new season with a fresh slate, the Pirates were quick to set the bar high. From the start of summer practice, “repeat” has been the theme.
“Since the next day after our championship game last year, we told ourselves that we were going to repeat,” senior point guard LaDarius Brinson said. “From the summer, all the team camps we went to, practicing in a hot gym, coach was on us a lot because he wanted us to … go down in history as the first (St. Jude team) to repeat. From Day 1, we’ve been saying ‘repeat’ as our break down so we keep in mind what the goal is.”
St. Jude faces a tough competitor in Parrish. The Tornadoes are led by 6-foot-8 Jacksonville State signee LaBarrius Hill, who is averaging 7.5 blocks a game.
St. Jude coach Earl Taylor feels Rogers (6-foot-4) and junior forward Tommy Burton (6-foot-8) are up to the challenge Hill presents.
“I’m actually looking forward to it because I think Andrew Rogers and Tommy Burton should elevate their game,” Taylor said. “Most of the time we’re preparing for somebody who’s going to be below us, height-wise. But as long as we have somebody that’s hopefully going to maintain the size and strength of an Andrew Rogers and Tommy Burton, they should stay engaged the whole game rather than just say, ‘I’m going to protect myself from going up or adjust my game.’ Hopefully they’ll take their games to another level.”
Taylor, a former state champion at St. Jude himself, wants his team to understand the opportunity it has. The Pirates have a chance to win their 10th overall title. St. Jude also has a chance to be the first group in its school history to repeat, something the 2006 champion Pirates led by eventual 2008 Alabama Mr. Basketball JaMychal Green wasn’t able to achieve.
“We’re right where we want to be. I hope they understand the significance and the overall importance of this game we have here,” Taylor said. “We’re playing to repeat for one, two for the state championship and there’s a lot of teams who had the opportunity to be where we are. We’re fortunate enough to be here. I just hope they grasp the moment and leave it all out on the floor.”