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Above the rim

Calhoun High School's varsity basketball team can do it all.

Power slams, backward dunks and longnrange NBA threes are a breeze for the defending Class 3A state champs.

The Tigers' athleticism and showmanship are not just a front. They currently sit atop the Alabama Sports Writer's Association's state ranking with a lofty 13n2 record with their only losses coming at the hands of Class 6A Robert E. Lee and Sidney Lanier, respectively.

"We go out to play as hard as we can and live with the results," sixthnyear Head Coach Jim Hunter Jr. said. "We've had that type of focus the last three years and it's been working out. The Bnteam does the same things that the varsity does, which is how we keep things going. That's credit to Coach Ronald Smith. If he didn't do what the varsity does, we would be that much more behind."

Calhoun captured its second Alabama High School Athletic Association state title in three years with a 99n84 win over Vinemont last year. The Tigers got the best of Washington County in the 2001 championship game with an 83n68 win. In 2002, CHS was knocked out of the state playoffs by Montgomery Academy in subnstate.

Hunter believes the Tigers, who have averaged 18nton30 wins every year for the past six, have a shot at repeating as state champions, but said they will have to overcome several stiff competitors.

"I think that we're at a point where we were last year," Hunter said. "We're playing well, but I just hope it can continue toward the end of the season. Right now, I would say that we're two steps behind last year's team at this time last year, but our record indicates that we're better."

CentralnHayneville, Pike County and Barbour County stand in the way of Calhoun and the Class 3A, Area 3 title. Hunter believes Pike County, which continues to be underestimated, will be the toughest of the three because they have a very talented team. He said his players are going to have to stay focused if they plan on making a run at the area, regional and state titles.

"When the game is tight, we don't need to panic," Hunter said. "We need to be the one to make the big plays. It takes little things to win."

Senior Deandre Brown is the only returning starter to the Tigers' roster this season. The 5nfootn6, 160 pound guard electrifies the crowds with his amazing ability to dunk over his opponents as well as sink basket after basket from beyond the arc.

"I feel more pressure this year because more teams are looking to stop me, but I've got four other players that I can get in the game that step up and play like stars," Brown said.

Brown, who has been recruited by UAB, Troy State University, Selma University and Shelton State, averages a teamnleading 20.2 points per game and four assists this season. He believes this year's team has a good chance of recapturing the state title, but said it will take hard work.

"If we go out and play hard every night, we've got a chance to repeat," Brown said. "It's going to take good defense though."

Brown, as well as starting Junior Center Martravias Hill, said Calhoun's team is much like a family away from home. Hill, 6nfootn5, 190 pounds, said he and his teammates stick together in order to prevent getting caught up in the hype of their success.

"We hang around each other instead of hanging around the fans," Hill said.

Hill leads the Tigers with 13 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game. He also averages 11.2 points a game. As the anchor of Calhoun's defense, Hill knows the importance of tough defense to complement the Tigers' fastnpaced offense.

"We depend on rebounds, but we like to shoot the outside shot sometimes," Hill said.

Senior Chris Taylor is also a mainstay on the hard court for CHS. The 6nfootn4, 210 pound forward is focused on being a leader for the Tigers.

"Being a senior, I'm just trying to be a positive role model for the younger guys coming up," Taylor said. "Hopefully they will continue to play and do what they're supposed to do."

Taylor contributes both offensively and defensively for the Tigers. He currently averages 13.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

Taylor believes Calhoun's success so far this season is an indication that another state championship is brewing. Just do the math.

"We've already won seven straight and Coach Hunter said it takes seven to win a state championship," Taylor said. "We believe in ourselves and want to do it."

Taylor believes his teammates are going to have to stick together and believe in each other if they plan on recapturing the state title.

Hunter agrees.

"We have at least two more steps to go," Hunter said. "We need to be more patient and have more dedication. If those factors come into effect, I think we'll be doing pretty good."