In order to make it out of Montgomery and into the Alabama High School Athletic Association Final Four next week, the Paul W. Bryant High boys basketball team had to overcome a large obstacle – Pelham’s 6-foot-9, Alabama-bound forward Alex Reese.

Reese, though, was far from the largest problem the Stampede had faced this year.

Zoning changes in the Tuscaloosa City School system brought an influx of new talent to Bryant, but that didn’t automatically mean harmony. That left Bryant coach Shon Peck-Love, the former Central High School and Alabama player (and as fine an example as you could find to prove that a college athlete doesn’t have to make it to the NBA to be a success in life), with a construction job on his hands.

“We had four players who came in from a rival (Northridge),” Peck-Love said. “These were young men who had been playing against each other all the way back to junior high. Early in the year, we were competing against each other as much as we were competing against the other team.”

The result was a 5-5 start that included a loss to a smaller Brookwood team. What’s more, Bryant was looking for leadership on a young team.

“Not having a senior was an unfortunate position to be in,” Peck-Love said. “Early in the year, we had a problem with it. You can appoint a captain, but that doesn’t make someone a leader. But after about 10 games, that leadership started to develop. The next time we played Brookwood, we won by 30. That showed us that we could lose to anyone or beat anyone.”

Peck-Love’s expectation immediately became winning.

“Not to be overconfident, but I believed coming into the (state) tournament, we were the best team in Class 6A,” the coach said.

The Stampede hardly looked like it in the first five minutes of Tuesday’s game. Pelham raced to an 11-0 lead and seemed headed for a blowout win. But Bryant kept giving Reese a steady diet of double-teams in the post and relied on its athleticism to harass Pelham on the perimeter.

“We knew they had two horses (Reese and point guard Justin Allen), but the first thing was Reese and trying to limit him,” Peck-Love said. “Whenever he went down on the block, we double-teamed him. On the perimeter, we felt like Seth (Williams, the Regional MVP and one of the state’s top 2018 football prospects as well) had the quickness to guard him, but when that ball went to the block, we were going to make him give it up and make their other guys beat us.”

That strategy and a balanced Bryant attack worked. Reese had a double-double (14 points and 11 rebounds), but not the big scoring game of which he is capable. Relying not just on Williams but Jared Sheffield and Stephen Watkins Jr. as well – and surviving some late misses at the free-throw line – the Stampede earned its second trip to the Final Four, the first since losing to Wenonah’s three-peat state champions in 2013.

“It’s great, great for the whole program and the whole community,” Peck-Love said. “We’ve been around but people around the state don’t really know us. What we are ready for is for people to say ‘Bryant’ and know that that means basketball.”

Reach Cecil Hurt at or 205-722-0225.