With a season full of memorable moments to choose from, Carver senior basketball player Daniel Melvin centered on an unexpected one as his favorite.
It wasn’t the 18-point victory over Lanett, a team that won an Alabama Class 2A state title the year before. It wasn’t the win over Burke County in the first round of the playoffs, which broke the Tigers’ two-year streak of being one and done in the postseason.
Instead, Melvin said it something the Tigers did daily that he’ll miss the most.
“For me, it was practice,” Melvin said. “With me and my teammates, we’re very competitive. Practice always seemed harder than the games because we always came at each other. We always attacked each other like it was our last practice.”
Melvin’s love of practice helped set up highlight after highlight on the court. He averaged 17.4 points per game while leading the Tigers on a wild ride of a season that included a region tournament championship. The team carried it over in the postseason, winning their first two games before falling to St. Pius in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
For his efforts, Melvin was named the 2016-2017 All-Bi-City 4A-7A Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
That drive between the teammates was one born a bit out of frustration. The Tigers’ inability to escape the first round of the playoffs struck a nerve with the squad. They didn’t want onlookers to know them as the team that played well in the regular season but couldn’t put it together when it mattered most.
“We tried to forget,” Melvin said. “We tried to make it a better place for the upcoming seniors and freshmen. We wanted to do something special in the city, so we tried to keep away from the trend that we went on last year and tried to make something new.”
The team’s mantra to change the perception brought real results in the win over Lanett on Dec. 28. At that point, Melvin began believing the team was capable of something special.
“After we played, I saw then we would have a chance to go very far in the playoffs and possibly win a state championship,” Melvin said. “It was just the way we all played together. We were undersized, and on paper they looked better than us. We just overcame the obstacles and played together.”
Melvin was Carver’s leading scorer through the season, but the offense around him really allowed it to happen. The five on the floor at any time for head coach Warren Beaulah were capable of reeling off standout performances, making defending one particular player a futile effort.
The team’s stockpile of accurate shooters also made Melvin’s role much easier to carry game in and game out.
“It takes a lot of pressure off because you don’t have to live up to the high expectations you’ve set for yourself every night,” Melvin said. “You can come out, have a 15-point game and somebody else would have a 25-point game. You’d be OK with that because you still won and gave yourself a winning chance.”
Once the postseason game, Melvin admitted there were nerves in the playoff opener against Burke County. The team hardly showed it on the court, though, as the Tigers blew out their opponent by 20 points. From there, the team settled in as they drew closer to the ultimate goal of a championship.
Melvin said a huge factor in the team getting settled was their routine. Because the Tigers and the Lady Tigers were in the playoffs and had homecourt advantage, the boys team organized its gameday as if it was still the regular season. The boys would watch the girls through the first three quarters before hitting the locker room to gear up for their game.
The zone Melvin and the Tigers settled into was tested several times along the way, with Carver getting the upperhand until the quarterfinals. In a dogfight with St. Pius, the two sides were tied 60-60 entering the final minute of regulation. St. Pius put the game away with a late free throw, knocking Melvin and his teammates out with a 64-60 loss.
Even though the loss was not what Melvin had in mind, he still holds his head high about the outcome.
“I knew we reached the peak of our season and we just got beat by the better team that night,” Melvin said. “I was satisfied with the way we played, so I accepted the loss a lot better.”
Melvin is in the process of deciding where he’ll play college basketball. As he gets his future in order, he looks back fondly on how his run as a Tiger went.
The storybook ending didn’t happen, but for Melvin, it doesn’t take away from how things actually played out.
“It was fun, being able to be the captain of the team,” Melvin said. “It meant a lot to me. I didn’t want to end my high school basketball career knowing my team didn’t pan out as well as I knew we could.”
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports