Charles Henderson & Valley clash in historic 5A State Final

Published 9:18 am Friday, March 3, 2023

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On Saturday morning, the Charles Henderson Trojans (25-5) will play the Valley Rams (31-0) for the Class 5A State Championship at Legacy Arena in Birmingham. The contest will be Charles Henderson’s first shot at a state title since 1987.

The game with Valley will also be the first time CHHS has ever played in a state title game since the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) moved to its current Final Four tournament format in 1994. This environment is also a new feeling for the Rams, as they have never played in a state championship in the school’s history. Regardless of who wins, it will be a team capturing a boy’s basketball state championship for the first time.

Valley and Charles Henderson have been two of the top teams in 5A for the majority of the 2022-2023 season but neither was ever ranked as the No. 1 school. The Trojans have won 15 straight games and 21 of the last 22 games, while Valley is the only undefeated team in the entire state, regardless of classification. Once the Final Four began those rankings mattered very little.

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“They’re athletic, very athletic,” Charles Henderson basketball coach Tim Fayson said. “They are aggressive, sort of like Ramsay, and they shot (the ball) really well against Scottsboro. You have to try and keep them off the boards and keep them out of transition. They are a good team.”

While Charles Henderson and Valley never met in the regular season, they also aren’t strangers to one another. The Trojans bested Valley in an appearance for both schools at a summer play date at Troy University.

“We played them this summer at Troy,” Fayson recalled. “I knew they were going to be good, just because of how they played there. We matched up really well with them, though. We were just coming together as a team but I knew (Valley) was going to have a good run just because they are so athletic.”

Bray Jones (2) helped keep the Trojans early in the season and continues to get additional minutes as the season goes on. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

When the 2022 portion of the schedule began this season, the Trojans were without a good portion of the varsity roster due to the Trojan football team making it all the way to the state championship in football. That meant that some junior varsity players had to be called up to the varsity to play minutes and a number of other young Trojans were forced to play against 6A and 7A schools like Auburn, Northridge, Dothan and Pinson Valley.

“That playing time and experience was invaluable,” Fayson said. “I told those guys, and I’ve been telling them all along, we’re going to need them. This Saturday is going to be a good indication of that, too.

“I know they can play and I’ve seen them do well. Bradley Prestwood scored in double figures early in the season and other guys played well early. Bray Jones started for us early in the season and he’s starting to play a lot better. That’s why we played that schedule and we’re hoping that will pay off for us.”

Seniors like Tyler Carlton, Austin Cross and Jayden Spearman also acted as the “glue” for the Trojans during the early part of the season.

“I think the experience they gained at the beginning of the season really paid off and they became kind of like the glue guys for us,” Fayson emphasized. “Tyler is the heart and soul of the whole team. He is the heartbeat. Jayden and Austin, scoring and shooting, have been that steady hand for us. Those three guys have been rock solid for us.”

Once the football players returned, that meant stars like Jywon Boyd and Mario Davenport were able to take the court, as well. During the postseason Boyd is averaging 13.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and two steals per game, while Cross averages 19.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. Either Cross or Boyd has led the Trojans in scoring in each of the four games since the state tournament began.

Spearman is averaging 10 points, six rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals in the postseason, while Carlton has earned two double-doubles and has grabbed more than 10 rebounds in each of the four postseason games. While Davenport didn’t score a point in the first two postseason games, he’s averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and one assist per game in the past two contests.

Tyler Carlton and the Trojans finished the regular season with a 20-5 record. (Photo by Dan Smith)

“We just have to focus on what got us here, basically; defense, rebounding, moving the ball, playing together and making shots,” Fayson said. “We still haven’t shot the ball as well as I know we can shoot it. So, I’m just looking forward to having that one game for us where it all comes together.”

An emotional aspect for the Trojans has been the team rallying around a pair of former Trojans, who passed away in recent years. Keith and Ricardo Starks were brothers and played together with Fayson at Charles Henderson.

“Those were two very good friends that I grew up with,” Fayson recalled. “Me and Ricardo were best friends. Those guys are what Charles Henderson Basketball is all about: working hard every single day and getting the most out of your ability and talent. I wanted to honor them and there are a lot of guys that have been here that passed away that I played with and played after me, as well.”

The Trojans dedicated the 2021-2022 season to their memories but continue to honor them as their jerseys hang in the Charles Henderson locker room to this day. Fayson said that his team has rallied around their memories.

“It was about reconnecting that spirit and bringing Charles Henderson Basketball back and instilling that pride back into the program,” Fayson said. “It was emotional to say the least. It feels great and the fact that we have guys that have embraced that and want to live up to that standard is the best feeling in the world. To see them go out there and play and want to honor them is just a great thing.”

The Trojans will look to complete their ultimate goal for the 2022-2023 season this Saturday, March 4, in the 5A State Championship against Valley in Birmingham at Legacy Arena at 10:45 a.m. The Messenger will have live coverage of the game on Facebook ( and Twitter (