Take Five: All-Mississippi Edition

You’ll find it all on The Hard Drive. But home is where the heart is. This week’s “Take Five” dishes on the big Mississippi stories in sports: NBA Playoffs, MLB milestones, NCAA drama, and yes, the SCOTUS.

 

1 sports gambling here!

It finally happened, and for once Mississippi is out in front. On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down a ban on commercial sports gambling and opened the door for legalized betting at the state level. Nowhere could the ruling have a larger, more immediate impact than in Mississippi. In short, we love sports, have lots of casinos, and the good Lord knows we need the money. In July, Mississippi passed legislation that put an immediate framework in place for legalized sports betting, should the 1992 gambling ban be overturned. Now the nation’s high court has effectively said ,“Game on.”

I spoke about the matter with a top Mississippi lawmaker recently, who reminded me of the crippling gambling addiction that had plagued a close family member. I sympathized but countered that he had just spoken for thirty minutes about how Mississippi needed to get progressive in finding new revenue streams. Illegal sports gambling is a $150 billion dollar per year business the country accepts and looks away from with a wink. Why not create establishments to officially regulate and profit from that commerce? We can debate the issue all evening at a local bar over a beer on the smoking patio and thereby prove the point. Experts project $88-100M annually in tax revenue if gambling were legalized and taxed on the state level. But it’s admittedly not that simple. There are countless questions to be asked about how it will all work and crucially, how it will benefit Mississippi. We should pump the brakes on celebrating progress and prosperity until we get more of those details. But it’s happening, it will change everything, and Mississippi should lead the way.

 

2 awesome alford IN MLB

Former Petal superstar Anthony Alford got his first Major League RBI this weekend. The No.3 ranked prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization has flown through the minor league system since leaving the Ole Miss football team in 2014. If you don’t know Alford’s story, you read that correctly – Canada’s rising baseball star used to play football in Oxford. In case you forgot: Alford was the first player in Mississippi history to win two straight Gatorade Player of the Year honors in football, and won The Clarion Ledger’s Mr. Football and Mr. Baseball his senior season (2012). In both sports, Alford possessed the grace of a gazelle and the potency of an attack sub. He was a four-star football recruit and a first-round projection in the MLB Draft. He made it clear to baseball scouts he wanted to first play college football, so teams deferred until the Jays took Alford in the 3rd round. They gave him a $750,000 signing bonus and permission to play the sport he loved during the fall.

 


Alford chooses hometown Southern Miss at the 2012 U.S. Army All-American game

 

Alford’s college football career soured quickly. He was recruited by offensive whiz Larry Fedora, who left for North Carolina just before the star quarterback committed. Alford still chose “hometown” Southern Miss and instead started as a freshman for first-year head coach Ellis Johnson – who wasn’t exactly setting offensive trends in football. In fact, Johnson’s lone Golden Eagle team stunk historically, a woebegone train that screeched to an unprecedented 0-12 wreck. Alford struggled through it all and left USM after the season, along with Johnson. He landed at Ole Miss and converted to safety, but had to sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. The next fall, Alford couldn’t crack a loaded Ole Miss safety lineup that included NFL starter Mike Hilton, the great Tony Conner, plus All-SEC heavy hitters Cody Prewitt and Trae Elston. Five games in, Alford made a business decision. He decided to give up football fully and finally to focus on baseball. Less than four years later, Alford drove in his first MLB run in his second career call-up. It’s likely the first of many, and another milestone in Alford’s remarkable story.

 

3 JERRELL powe: LEGEND

Speaking of former Ole Miss football stars forced to sit out due to NCAA eligibility requirements, Jerrell Powe is officially the man forever. The former Wayne County defensive lineman, who was denied eligibility by the NCAA three different times from 2005-07 as it investigated his academic background, graduated from Ole Miss this weekend after four years in pro football. He decided to loop the NCAA back in on the process.

 

Powe rose from a challenging upbringing to (finally) star at Ole Miss, play professional football and now return to college to get his degree. He’s an inspiration for that alone. But he sealed his fate as a Rebel great in a different way with his scorched-earth skewering of the hated NCAA. What’s so rich here is that Powe owned the association with the keen intellect they made such a public, prolonged effort to question years ago. Admirably, Powe is the one laughing now.

 

4 “What’s up with rodney?”

“What’s up with your boy Rodney?” I got a version of this text this past week from several different NBA fans who have seen the former Meridian star fall off the basketball map since being traded to Cleveland. (We wrote about Hood’s disappearance in this space a couple of weeks ago.) He reappeared on the radar on May 7th in Cleveland’s Game 4 blowout of Toronto, when he refused coach Tyronn Lue’s call to action in the waning minutes after not playing the entire contest. It was a sulking, spiteful protest. The national media jumped on the story, but the cool Cavs blew it off as a minor distraction in the wake of their constant soap opera. Indeed, Hood played his best game of the playoffs in Game One of the conference finals: all of 19 minutes, 11 points and 2 assists.

Cleveland may have written off Hood’s insubordination, if only because he seemed inconsequential in helping them win. That’s the big worry for Hood and his fans. The former first round pick for Utah was averaging 16.7 ppg this season before the trade. Yet he had lost his starting spot with the Jazz and got relegated to playoff mop-up duty with the Cavs. There’s a narrative of selfishness whispering around the withdrawn Hood: the moody guy who transferred from Mississippi State, lost to Mercer at Duke, didn’t play defense in Utah and now proceeds with a black mark in Cleveland. Hood can really play, the rap is complicated, and his future is still bright. But it will be interesting to see what teams line up for him– and don’t – as he enters free agency this offseason.

 


Hood scores a bucket for Meridian in the 2012 state championship win

 

5 mississippi A golf state?

Mississippi is a steadily growing into fertile ground for top young golfers. Look no further than this week’s NCAA Championships, happening at six regional sites across the country. Ole Miss star and DeSoto Central product Braden Thornberry headlines the pack as a class of his own. The world No.1 ranked amateur and defending NCAA Champion leads the 6th seeded Rebels in the Bryan, Tx. regional, along with All-SEC freshman Cecil Wegener (Jackson Prep). No.7 Alabama enters the Stockton, Ca. regional as one of the country’s powerhouse programs. The Tide, making its 14th straight NCAA apperance, won consecutive national championships in 2013 & 2014, spearheaded by current professional world No.1 Justin Thomas. Their title hopes this year will depend heavily on two Mississippians: junior Davis Riley (Presbyterian Christian, Hattiesburg) and freshman phenom Wilson Furr (Jackson Academy). And don’t forget about Missouri senior Hayden Buckley. The Tupelo product led the SEC in scoring average at 69.53 this season, won four individual titles and helped Missouri to its first NCAA appearance since 2014.


Thornberry joined “The Golf Show” in April to talk about his dream college season

 

 

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Jon Wiener is a sports broadcaster, writer and film producer with Bash Brothers Media and ESPN 105.9 FM The Zone (Jackson, Miss.). He’s written for The New York Daily News, SLAM! Magazine, ABC News, Global Golf Post, The Jackson Free Press, Mississippi Sports Magazine, and more. He graduated from Syracuse University with an M.S. in Broadcast and Digital Journalism and Trinity University with a B.A. in English Literature. Broadcasting is fun, producing is expensive, writing is where the heart is.

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