The defining moment of Andrew Strickland’s time on the Hoover High basketball team could have come early during his sophomore season. However, through sheer determination and a good dose of guts, Strickland, who is now a senior, made sure that a nasty fall he took during a Big Orange Classic game at Hoover High wasn’t his final high school basketball memory.
It was merely part of a high school basketball journey that has been highlighted, thus far, by a Class 7A state championship that Strickland and his teammates won last February.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” said Hoover High head coach Charles Burkett. “He’s going to battle you tooth and nail the whole way. It fits his character. We can always rely on him to be 100 percent. He plays the game with such intensity. For him to come back and do the same thing, speaks volumes about who he is.”
Don’t expect Strickland to give a first person account of the play that took away most of his first varsity season.
“Honestly, I don’t remember it at all,” Strickland said. “One minute I was playing basketball and the next minute I was waking up in the hospital. I honestly had no idea what happened. I didn’t know what day it was. It was the day after Christmas and I didn’t even know that.”
Burkett doesn’t remember the opponent — it was Leeds — or that it was a first round game in the Bucs’ annual tournament. But he remembers all the details of the play that occurred in December of 2013. He remembers Strickland, a sophomore starter, leaping to block a shot and getting clipped at the top of his jump. He remembers the fall and vicious landing. He remembers a silent gym and a pool of blood quickly forming under an unconscious Strickland’s head.
Most of all, he remembers the fear.
“It was just the grace of God that he didn’t break his neck,” Burkett said. “Just for him to even get back healthy again were our thoughts. Basketball wasn’t even an option at that point.”
It took eight stitches to close the gash in the back of Strickland’s head, but the biggest medical concern was the serious concussion he suffered. He estimates he missed a couple of weeks of school and didn’t return to the basketball court until just before the playoffs. Bright lights and loud noise bothered him for a couple of months. Headaches were a consistent companion.
“It was kind of tough because all I could do is sit there,” said Strickland, who pieced together what happened by watching the play on video.
Eventually, he got back on the court and, for the most part, got back to normal. However, admittedly there was a twinge of apprehension.
“On that play, I was blocking a shot, so I’ve kind of been a little more hesitant when I go up to block a shot,” Strickland said. “It did kind of take a toll on that.”
What it didn’t do, though, was change the way he plays the game. Floor burns are part of his plan. Battling under the boards is one of the best things he does on the basketball floor. Backing down is not an option.
“Andrew is that player who every coach loves to have,” Burkett said. “He’s like that glue guy. He’s rarely going to lead us in scoring but he’s going to rebound the ball. The things he does don’t always show up in the stat sheet but it gives you an opportunity to win.”
Last season, he was an integral part of a Hoover team that was the first boys’ basketball state champion in school history. It was the highlight — at least thus far — of his high school basketball experience.
“I think about what if I stopped playing because of (the injury),” Strickland said. “I was blessed to play the game and be part of the state championship team. It meant everything. We were actually the first 7A state champions. A lot of work went into it and it paid off.”
He’s busy now trying to finish his senior season in style — perhaps with another state championship ring. When the season is done, so is his basketball career.
“I take pride in what I do, and basketball is one of those things,” Strickland said. “If I’m playing, I’m going to play hard. I don’t think I want to play at the next level. Right now, I’m just trying to end this year off strong.”