Junior Craig Sword Gets A FNL Look

FNL (Friday Night Lights, this column‘s moniker) has been hearing about Montgomery Carver junior guard Craig Sword for over a year. Thursday at the Class 6A semifinals at the BJCC was the first chance to see the 6-3 Sword, who entered the game against Tuscaloosa Hillcrest averaging 23.7 points per game. Hillcrest outlasted Carver, 54-50, to advance to Saturday's finals against Murphy.

Here's what Sword did statistically in the state tournament in Birmingham: 15 points, 5-11 field goals, 1-3 behind the arc, two boards, two steals, two assists, and three turnovers.

Here's what I saw of Sword realistically: Though Sword bears a slight facial resemblance to Kobe Bryant, he doesn't yet take over games at will. He can at times, according to those who've seen him throughout his career. He plays hard, and seems to pride himself on defense.

Said former Alabama player James Jackson, who coaches Sword at Carver, "Craig Sword is one of our two 3-point shooters. He can drive, too. First half, they got him all tangled up when he went inside. Second half, he got his legs under him, got a little stronger going to the basket, and made the officials make some calls."

Here's the take from Hillcrest Coach Scott Suttles: "Craig Sword's incredible. I can see why he's really, really highly regarded. We really wanted to make him a jump-shooter today. He had 15 (points), and they were all hard-earned."

Alabama has Sword atop it's 2012 instate board, according to good sources, but to compare him to say, a junior Trevor Lacey, is unfair and inaccurate.

The best senior in the game was Northeastern University (Boston) signee Reggie Spencer of Hillcrest. The 6-6 senior came in averaging 18.2 points and 10.8 boards. Thursday, Spencer tallied but four (five boards), and fouled out with 7:16 left on a personal and a technical.

UNDERCLASSMAN WHO SHINED: He's one of the state's top quarterback prospects for the class of 2013, but 6-4 Carver soph Jeremy Johnson can hoop, too. He scored eight, but came in averaging 21 points. Johnson will be scouted this fall by FNL.

ELSEWHERE IN 6A: Upstart Vestavia Hills got hot in the postseason and made it to the 6A semis with a 15-17 record (10-16 regular season). The Rebels led most the game against Murphy of Mobile, but late in the game the Panthers made free throws and the Rebs did not. Murphy got 28 points from 6-3 senior Troyce Manassa in a 65-59 win. (Manassa says his college destination is "undecided.")

Vestavia juniors William Truss (12 points, six boards) and B.K. Houston (eight points, 2-for-3 on treys) looked like prospects. Truss looks like a football player, and Houston looks like (if he shot more) a young Allen Houston (Tennessee, New York Knicks).

IN THE LADIES BRACKET: LSU's 6-foot pledge Chardonae Fuqua (eight points, eight boards) and Auburn commit, 6-2 Nicole Tanner (nine points, seven rebounds two blocks), both juniors, helped lead Hoover (33-3) to a 67-38 win over Blount. Two Blount players had female Mohawks. Don't see that every day. Perhaps Mr. T has kin folk in Prichard he doesn't know about.

Yesterday, while watching 5-1 junior ball-handling whiz Jasmine Steele play, I was enamored with her quickness and "no fear" ‘attitude. Last night, I was reminded that Steele is committed to Wendell Hudson and Alabama. The mighty mite scored 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead her Midfield squad to a 49-27 win Wednesday over Good Hope. The Lady Pats (21-13) face Brewbaker Tech in the Friday 4A finals.

Meanwhile, 6-1 Tennessee commitment and Bob Jones junior Jasmine Jones scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead her team over Jeff Davis-Montgomery, 62-25. The Lady Patriots will face Hoover Saturday for the 6A title. Jasmine is a popular name these days for lady hoopsters.

It has to hurt Wendell Hudson and staff, who have recruited all three hard, to see excellent players like Fuqua, Jones and Tanner choose places not named Tuscaloosa.

THINGS THAT MAKE ME CRINGE: Every time I see Suttles, I have flashbacks of all the games my church league teams lost to his. A Bama grad, Suttles played at Tuscaloosa County and Shelton State before heading to first intramurals at UA and then church league, where he has led First Baptist Tuscaloosa to many titles.

Oh, and Suttles is one of the best high school coaches in the Southeast, too. He turned programs around at two different Tuscaloosa schools, Holy Spirit and now Hillcrest.

FACES IN THE CROWD: Once again, former Tide Coach Wimp Sanderson. I think Wimp is checking out these games as a free scout for his sons who are college coaches: Scott at Lipscomb, and Jim at Faulkner. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Sanderson is also the former head coach of Carbon Hill High, and with the Bulldogs playing Wednesday got to reunite with some of his ex-players from Walker County. Plus, I'm sure he gets a kick out of seeing his former players turned successful coaches, like Jackson.

Bama assistant Dan Hipsher and Tide signee Levi Randolph were on hand to watch Sword play. Randolph was giving Sword heck from the stands during warm-ups. Hipsher got to legally bump into top prospect Trevor Lacey post-game, who also was on hand to watch.

Finally, one of the judges for the slam dunk semis was Bill Jones, retired UNA coach and grandpa of Bama footballers Barrett and Harrison Jones.

PRESS ROOM FARE: Lunch was burgers and dogs, but Thursday night Legends Smokehouse owner Randy Walls promises one of his signature dishes: grilled chicken. Cant' wait.

Oh, and speaking of Hoover, that city's Green Valley Pharmacy on US 31 has a lunch counter with good burgers and shakes. They also serve breakfast on weekday's and today's FNL menu was two eggs over light, bacon, grits and toast. One word: superb. Oh, and yes, I've had the burgers and shakes, too. They get my stamp of approval, too.

Lunch counters at stores like Rexall Drugs and Woolworth's used to be a Southern tradition. Like drive-in theaters, they've mostly gone by the boards. Finding one and eating there is fun.

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