Where are East Mississippi's star hoopsters?
By By Stan Torgerson / guest columnist
June 13, 2002
There are two things that trouble me about high school basketball in this part of the state. First, where are the big kidsalthough that is a statewide problem.
But second, and most important where are the talented ones?
For whatever the reasons, East Mississippi has shown a lack of Division I players for a number of years and I simply don't understand it. Meridian High School is one of the largest individual schools in the state. Lauderdale county schools collectively have an equal number of students. Then there's the ever growing Philadelphia, Newton, Quitman and others. Only Wayne County seems to develop players with major college athletic futures.
And don't remind me that a kid from Meridian High made the pros and a kid from Quitman is an NBA star. Two out of hundreds? That doesn't impress me.
Take last weeks Mississippi-Alabama All Star game. Look at this state's lineup. Players on the boys squad came from Corinth, Bay Springs, Natchez (2), Wayne County, Tupelo, Murrah, Wingfield, Clinton, Picayune, Columbus and Oxford.
In an effort to keep our heads up we will certainly lay claim to Wayne County and Bay Springs as being in our part of the state. But from there to Columbus and Tupelo is a whole lot of miles without one player qualified to make a statewide All-Star group with 12 members.
It is virtually no different for the girls. Twelve players. Only two neighbors of Lauderdale County. This squad was compiled from young stars who played at Warren Central, New Albany, Provine, Clinton, Wms. Sullivan, Crystal Springs, Ripley, Wayne County, Lake, Natchez, Greenville-Webster and Oak Grove.
Wayne County and Lake can rightly be called East Mississippi players but try to find any north of their county lines.
It's very much like the Lauderdale County schools. They are competitive among themselves but in neither basketball nor football can they rarely consistently beat anybody else. I've been in their gyms as well as others mentioned above. Fan support ranges from so-so to very enthusiastic with so-so during the regular season being more common than packed gyms and wild enthusiasm. Is that the reason? Is boys and girls basketball not as important as it used to be?
As for size of players, I learned long ago during my 17 years in the Southeastern Conference that there are a lot of quality players under 6'4". But I also learned that the kid who is 6'8" or taller has a definite advantage over his smaller competitor. So where are they in Mississippi?
The boys All-Star squad had three at 6'7" but nothing taller. There was one boy at 6'5", three at 6'4", two at 6'3", one at 6'1" and two 5'11" or less.
Further, only four of what supposedly was a collection of the best senior players coming out this year were designated for Division I schools. One at 5'10" had signed with Ole Miss. Jackson State got a hometown 6'7" player. Southern Mississippi took the Bay Springs player, Jason Forte who is 6'4" and a 6'3" youngster from Clinton. I guess maybe Samford is Division 1 and the youngster from Picayune will play there. But how many of these seniors could be truthfully called Blue Chip prospects? Yet I will conceede that several of them when they get into college may blossom into blue chip playersbut it would help if they were 6'10".
As for the girls, there were three standing 6'0" and no more. After that the players were a collection of 5 foot somethings ranging down to an itty bitty at 5'5". There was one girl who signed an SEC scholarship, a six footer from Warren Central who is going to Ole Miss. The girl from Crystal Springs was recruited by Southern Mississippi but she's only 5'9".
You like to see some kid dunk the basketball and fire up the crowd? You won't see it in girls basketball from someone 5'5" or even 5'9".
The truth is bigger is better, whether it's football, basketball or baseball. Yes I'm aware of Jason Harrison, the 5'5" guard who starred for Ole Miss the past couple of seasons. Every once in awhile a kid like him will come along who makes up in sheer grit and determination what he lacks in stature. But he's got to have the 6'8" Justin Reeds and Derrick Allens alongside of him to make it work.
What's the answer? No one really knows. I've heard many high school coaches, both football and basketball, complain in recent years that there are young men in their schools who are big enough and talented enough to play sports and earn a college scholarship but who just aren't interested.
Let me tell those parents something. I have two children. The boy went through college at Ole Miss on a football scholarship and the bills went to the athletic department. I didn't have to go anywhere near the bank. My daughter went through school (and graduate school) with the bills being sent to my address and I had to re-mortgage the house.
In parenthood, free is better. Your son or daughter wants to help his momma or dad? I believe the way leads through the locker room of his or her high school.