E.A. Sports Today

Chasing a 3-peat

Two-time reigning state champion Sacred Heart prepares to open season with usual high — and highly personal — expectations

Oxford's Braden Mack and Sacred Heart newcomer Dakota Myers (11) battle for the opening tip Monday night. (All photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Oxford’s Braden Mack and Sacred Heart newcomer Dakota Myers (11) battle for the opening tip Monday night. (All photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Expectations. At this time of the basketball season, before anyone starts playing for real, everyone has them – players, teams, fans, media. Some expectations are high, some are ambitious. None are low.

Sacred Heart, the two-time reigning Class 1A state champions champs and inarguably the most talented team in Calhoun County, knows what others’ expectations (and jealous hopes) are for the Cardinals and they, of course, have “high” expectations of their own.

On Point One, they don’t care. On Point Two, they don’t share.

Let’s see if we can guess. Continue to dominate everyone in their overmatched area (and maybe have a little extra for newcomer Spring Garden, which raised the elephant of recruiting after losing in last year’s regionals), never lose to a 1A opponent, beat every county team they play, win the county championship and win a third straight state title. They’re the easy ones.

“We compete, that’s all you do,” Cardinals coach Ralph Graves said. “You compete and play to the best of your ability. Win or lose is not going to determine who we are. We know who we are.

“Everybody else’s expectations for us don’t matter. We have our own expectations, which we will not discuss. As long as we’re working hard and doing what we’re supposed to do and our kids set their goals and know what goals they want to meet, that’s what they’re going to work toward and that’s the only thing we’re focusing on.

“We do have high expectations for our team – always — for our program. We would never set low goals. The key is everybody else shouldn’t have an expectation for us, because when we’re at practice and we’re working, we don’t see them there. The only thing we’re worried about is what we do.”

The Cardinals tangled with Oxford in a scrimmage Monday night that could be a preview for the Calhoun County Tournament boys final (our expectations?). Both teams open Monday on the road — Sacred Heart against defending 5A state champion Jemison in Huntsville and Oxford at Gadsden City.

The Cardinals won it, of course, even though no one kept score. They looked sharp in the 40-minute, running-clock exercise between Ohatchee-Faith Christian and White Plains-Plainview games, calling out plays, making crisp well-timed passes, swarming on the press. They even rolled out a new weapon in Dakota Myers, a 6-6 transfer from Grissom who can shoot the 3 and complement post Diante Wood, last year’s Final Four MVP.

The Yellow Jackets, playing without injured Jakolbe McClendon, was still a work in progress, but the expectation – there’s that word again — is they have the potential to be a factor by the stretch run in Class 6A.

McClendon tore a meniscus during football season and is likely out until Christmas. By then, the Jackets will be learning how to win so they can be in position to take the program to regionals for the first time in 20 years.

It took a recent phone conversation with Hoover coach Charles Burkett for Jackets coach Joel Van Meter to see the big picture. Burkett related how he trusted the process and his team that had a losing record going into the final week of the season caught fire at the right time and ultimately reached the Final Four.

“He told me he made sure he wasn’t ever too up and never too down,” Van Meter said, “and that’s why they got to the Final Four, because they played tough competition and the game on Nov. 19 didn’t really matter, they were just trying to get better. I’m trying to learn from that.

“Last year in (Monday’s) setting I’d have been ripping and roaring, but at the end of the day that’s a scrimmage. My competitive side would’ve got the best of me. I understand we’ve got a ways to go, but it’s a scrimmage. They don’t know what being a winner is. We’ve got to learn that.

“People don’t just hand it out. That’s like Ralph. Say what you want about (Sacred Heart), they took their lumps when his kids were real young and they learned how to win and now they’re over it, he’s taking advantage of it.”

The race to meet everyone’s expectations starts Thursday afternoon when Faith Christian opens the county basketball season against Jefferson Christian.

Sacred Heart's Kevion Nolan (R), a Samford commitment, tries to get past Oxford's Jerod Guthrie in a battle between two of the top guards in Calhoun County.

Sacred Heart’s Kevion Nolan (R), a Samford commitment, tries to get past Oxford’s Jerod Guthrie in a battle between two of the top guards in Calhoun County.

To see more B.J. Franklin photos from this event, visit bjfranklin.smugmug.com

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