The MHSAA state basketball tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum is one of the state’s best events each year. We’re so here for it. Here are the Best Things We Saw & Heard from The Big House: Day 3
Rashad Bolden : The savvy St. Andrews sophomore did his best to etch his name in Big House lore with a 32 point (10-18 FG), 8 reb, 5 ast performance — this a year after leading the Saints to their first state championship in school history by going 12-14 from the free throw line as a starting freshman point guard. Bolden was easily the best player on the floor Wednesday, time and again knifing through a potent Holly Springs press for driving layups or pull-up jumpers with poise and ease. The son of longtime Meridian coach Randy Bolden plays with a maturity beyond his years, and nearly led the Saints to the title game for the second year in a row. It was a flawless game from Bolden, except for a turnover in the final seconds that led to the Hawks winning basket. It was just the third TO of the day for Bolden, remarkable considering he played 32 minutes against an all-out press with the ball in his hand the majority of the time. But you can be sure it will be part of what drives the seasoned sophomore to bring the Saints back again.
Same Ole Velma Jackson: The Weatherspoon brothers are at Mississippi State and former coach Anthony Carlyle is now at Yazoo City. But the Coliseum performance for the new group of Falcons felt like more of the same. Velma Jackson flew around and up and down the court, overwhelming a 30-0 Yazoo County team with trademark athleticism, speed, and aggressiveness the Weatherspoons & Co. made famous in winning four titles in five seasons under Carlyle. Analyst Romero Osby commented on the broadcast that the Panthers must have felt like the Falcons had six guys on the court. But these Falcons are far more than athletes flying around, a credit to second year coach Chris Love: they get terrific shots, don’t turn the ball over, and execute what they do well at a high rate. Against a daunting Panther press engineered by defensive tactician Rahim Lockhart, the Falcons shot 48% FG, attempted only five three pointers (they hit three), and went 27-35 from the line. Four Falcons scored in double figures, led by Joshua Lee (25 pts) and Jordan Harvey (14 pts), who offered up a vicious two-hand putback slam and also got T’d up later in the game for flexing on a defender after a layup. The basketball brand is alive and well at Velma.
Speaking of Osby: Good on the MHSAA and Play On Sports for rounding up Mississippi hoops great Romero Osby for the semifinal broadcast. Osby was a two-time All State selection at Northeast Lauderdale, played as a freshman for Mississippi State in the NCAA Tournament, then transferred to Oklahoma where he was 1st team All-Big 12 as a senior. He was drafted by the Orlando Magic in 2013 and then played for several years in the D-League and overseas. It all gives Osby fantastic perspective and insight for the high school championships and what lies ahead for the kids on the court. He’s equally good on the microphone.
Pearl’s Inspiring Push: There’s something about that Pearl community when it comes to feel-good stories. A year after capturing the hearts of Mississippi football fans with an undefeated run to their first state championship, the girl’s basketball team is now one game away from winning a state title with their coach, U.S. Army Reserve member Lacey Kennedy, deployed in Qatar and her husband, Jason, now leading the team. It’s a script for Hollywood, except it was real in every way for the legion of Pirates fans in attendance, most with t-shirts and signs emblazoned with some sort of tribute to Kennedy. Pearl, no doubt inspired by the home crowd and their coach serving abroad, ran away from undefeated Greenville from the get-go, opening a 17 pt halftime lead and sailing to a 57-39 victory. They’ll have to get past another metro team seeking their Cinderella script in Terry, who has never won a state title and got past Hernando 48-44.
Strib’s Emerald Suit: The best-dressed man in Mississippi delivered again on Wednesday with a wall-white suit and emerald shirt ensemble that would have made The Riddler envious. That man is of course legendary SWAC coach and 2019 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductee Lafayette Stribling, 84 years old, and affectionately known around the state as “Strib.” He won more than 900 games and three state titles as a high school coach, four SWAC titles at Valley where he’s the winningest coach in school history, and another five conference titles at Tougaloo College. But it’s Strib’s status as a pioneer for African American coaches in the South, and in style…oh, the style…that makes him a true living legend. Each year at the Big House you’ll see Strib in his customary court-side seat, dressed to impress and holding court with a stream of reverent but respectful admirers. Don’t miss our ‘Featured’ profile of Strib this week and special all-access video look at his signature style.