High School Sports

Central's streak of 21 wins a byproduct of aiming for championship

Guard Tre Todd passes the ball during practice Monday. Central is currently ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2002.
Guard Tre Todd passes the ball during practice Monday. Central is currently ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2002.

Central boys basketball coach Bobby Wright was in the middle of an interview about his team's first No. 1 ranking in the Alabama Sportswriters Association since 2002 when he was asked how he can help his players maintain their focus down the stretch despite the attention that inevitably comes with a 22-game winning streak.

He stopped the question briefly and raised a microphone to his lips to give instructions to his players, who were getting loose at the start of Monday's practice. After finishing his directions, he set the microphone down and smiled.

"With this microphone," he said.

In other words, nothing has changed. It's the same microphone he's used all season, from the team's lone one-point loss to Shaw to the victory over Carver over the weekend that made it 22 victories in a row.

The ASWA ranking that has the Red Devils at the top is a great honor, Wright said. He and the players are both excited about it for the team, for the community and for the school.

"It speaks volumes about our program," Wright said.

But it won't mean much if the team can't get over the hump -- specifically, the trip to Montgomery, should it advance that far -- and have a chance at a state title.

"The standard we've set here is that we strive to win championships," Wright said. "We know we're going to win ballgames, but the true test is winning championships. We've won tournaments and areas in the past, but we know we have to go through Montgomery and then Birmingham to get to the top."

Wright has had a long and successful run at Central, winning 570 games and being elected to the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. But even he knows how rare that No. 1 ranking is.

Still, the one thing that has eluded him during his time with the Red Devils has been the state championship. Central has come close, finishing runner-up in 1999 and advancing to five semifinals games.

Wright is hoping this is the team that can finally make it to the top.

He complimented the team on its effort thus far. A number of players on the team played football in the fall, and the one thing about having a successful football team is that it bleeds over into the start of the basketball season. Wright said his players did a good job adjusting over the first few weeks and getting to the level they're at right now.

He likes the team's focus. Despite the success and the attention, it hasn't taken any days off.

"Not trying to sound braggadocios, but when you're No. 1 every is trying to knock you off that pedestal," Wright said. "I think most people already circle us on their calendar, so we can't afford to have a bad night."

Guard Tre Todd said that, while the players have thought a little about the ranking, it hasn't prevented them from focusing on what is in front of them.

"We're really just focused on trying to get to Birmingham," he said. "That's it. That's the most important thing to us."

The team has come close each of the past three years, losing close games in Montgomery, including two by buzzer-beaters. And he has stressed to his players there is only one thing that can help them get past that game.

"I challenge them to be as good as they can be," Right said. "It's their responsibility to keep this program where it is and elevate it. You have to have a commitment and dedication and have the discipline to come in here every day and give it your best. If you're going to be good, it takes time."

Now, they're hoping that the time has finally come.