FNL Hoops

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- If defense and athleticism are your forte' when you watch hoops, you would have loved to have been at the BJCC for Friday's 5A semifinal state tourney matchup between John Carroll and Decatur. Andrew Steele scored all 11 of his points after intermission to help John Carroll to a 45-43 win over the Red Raiders.

Andrew Steele is trying to help his John Carroll team do what it did when Andrew's brother, Alabama star Ron Steele, did in earning a state championship.

Alabama hoops signee Rico Pickett of Decatur led all scorers with 19, and Tide football signee Rolando McClain came off the bench to pour in 13, including an improbable 3-pointer to tie the score at 43 with just six seconds left. A scramble for the inbounds pass resulted in a foul that sent the Cavs' David Owens to the line, where he converted a pair of free throws to account for the winning margin.

With 4.2 seconds left, the plan was for McClain to inbound the ball to Pickett, who would drive the length of the court and try for the tie or the win. Owens stole McClain's inbound pass to seal the victory.

"If you witnessed that ballgame right there, you saw what high school basketball is supposed to be like in the state of Alabama," said John Carroll coach Marty Smith. Ditto.

"We're disappointed. We had an extremely good (27-6) season," said Decatur coach Jamie Lee. "I'm so proud of our team. God has just blessed this team unbelievably, and I think He's going to continue to bless them in life."

Pickett had six boards, three assista and two steals, but went 7-of-13 at the line, which seemed to surprise a pair of his future coaches on hand, Mark Gottfried and Phillip Pearson. McClain added eight boards and a pair of blocks. "I'm going back to the weight room," said McClain. "Alabama's given me a workout plan, so that's what I'm fixing to do now: get back to the basics, and get ready for football."

Smith said he gave Pickett some postgame advice regarding next year in Tuscaloosa: "I told him 'make sure you listen to Ronald (Steele). He's going to help make your learning curve a lot shorter. I told him, Rico, you and Ronald are going to make a great pair next year.'"

Asked how he'd like this team to be remembered, Pickett said, "I just want people to know that we played hard, and gave it all we had." To the categories:

SENIORS WHO SHINED: In addition to the afore-mentioned Pickett and McClain, JCHS guard DeMarcus Covington stepped up when Steele had to sit out the final nine minutes of the first half with foul trouble. The Jacksonville State football signee scored eight of his 15 points in the first half to help his team stay in the game. Decatur led 19-16 at the break. His teammate Owens ran Smith's offense to a tee and finished with four points and an assist.

Playing their last game for the Raiders were 6-3 Jarodiaus Willingham (four points) and 6-5 Gary "G" Redus, who had two points, a rebound and an assist before fouling out. Redus is the son of former Reds outfielder Gary and brother of ex-Tide point guard Manisha Redus. He does not play baseball for DHS.

JUNIORS TO WATCH: Andrew Steele's your guy here. He added five board and three steals to his 11 points, but uncharacteristically went 2-for6 at the foul line. He made his only 3-point attempt. "With him on the court, we're a totally different basketball team," Smith said of Ronald Steele's younger brother. "We're more confident. He doesn't have to score." Sound familiar? "We felt like if we could slow Andrew down, we had a chance, " Lee said. "We tried to ‘no-catch' him, and keep him from getting the ball. He did a good job of coming to get it."

"They played great defense, and made it hard for me to get the ball," Steele said. "We kept playing, even when I was in foul trouble in the first half. I think that was the key to the game."

OTHER PROSPECTS: St. Jude's junior JaMcyhal Green averaged 27.5 points and nine boards in two Final Four games, but his Pirates fell to J.F. Shields in the 1A finals. Green will have his choice of suitors, butBama has been in there for two years and will be a factor. R.C. Hatch star Frankie Sullivan, a 6-2 junior, was named MVP of class 2A for leading R.C. Hatch over Barbour County witg 33 points in the title tilt. Mississippi State and Auburn will join Bama in the Sullivan sweepstakes.

PRESS ROOM FARE: Catered by Bama booster Stanley Virciglio's Birmingham Piggly Wiggly stores, the media and coaches enjoyed Chicken chilada, refried beans and salad postgame. Not bad, really. Stan was on hand to scout the future Tiders in action.

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