It is an event like no other, and we were there for it all. Here are the best players, coaches, teams and moments from the state tournament week at the Mississippi Coliseum:
Player of the Week (Girls) – Endya Buford, Olive Branch: A star was born before our eyes at the Mississippi Coliseum this week. Olive Branch junior guard Endya Buford, 1st team all state last year, averaged 28.4 ppg this season and started as a freshman on the Quistors’ 2017 championship team. But she hadn’t yet made her name on the big stage until this year. And did she ever. Buford put up two 30-spots (31 in the semifinals and 36 in the championship win over West Jones) averaged 8 steals, 7 rebounds and shot 52% from the field 20-22 from the tree throw line. It was astonishing how easy and effortless Buford makes a superstar performance look. In leading her team to the championship, she put herself in the conversation with the likes of Tan White, Victoria Vivians, and Navonda Moore as the greatest girls Big House hoopers. We can’t wait to see the inevitable encore next year.
Player of the Week (Guys) Calvin Temple, Center HIll : The IUPUI signee backed up a 28 point semifinal performance with a 24 spot and 9 rebounds in a title game win over defending champ Olive Branch. It wasn’t always pretty in Temple’s first trip to the Big House, but he found a way to get buckets and get his team over the line for the Mustangs first state championship in school history. Temple hit a series of big shots late and his performance at the line was the difference in both the four point win over Hattiesburg and two point thriller over the Conquistadors: Temple was 25-30 for the week. The 6’1, 160 lb. guard is a unique player who plays above his size and with springy aggression. He’ll be a good player at the next level, and a hero at The Hill for the rest of his life.
Comeback Kids – Kossuth Lady Aggies: It’s the most exciting scene at the Big House each year. One team, or more, comes back from an impossible double digit deficit in the frenetic final minutes. This year it was newcomer Kossuth, who trailed powerhouse Belmont (with eight state championships) by 13 with 5:13 remaining in the 3A title game and turned it around on the familiar combination of turnovers, controversial whistles, missed free throws, and big shots. None bigger than Morgan Hodum’s pull-up three to tie the game at 42 with just over a minute remaining. It was the Lady Aggies first state championship in school history. To beat the Lady Cardinals program in comeback fashion makes it that much sweeter.
Top Coach (Girls) Jason & Lacey Kennedy, Pearl: By now you know the story of Pearl’s power couple: head coach Lacey Kennedy left the team in November to serve a tour in Qatar as an active member of the U.S. Army Reserve. Her husband Jason stepped in in an interim role and led the Pirates to a 28-1 regular season. Then the Pirates ran through Coliseum competition at a margin of 14.5 ppg for their first state championship since 1994. Pearl brought it home behind star seniors Jayla Alexander (21 pts, 11 rebs) and Makayla Minnet (13 pts, 10 rebs), but it’s the story of Jason and Lacey that inspired the run and will be told forever.
Top Coach (Guys) Calvin Brown, East Marion: 21 years. That’s how long Brown had been head coach at East Marion before getting to a state championship game. Brown and the Eagles made it count, knocking off defending champ Okolona 58-53 behind 20 pts from Flenard McLin for first state title in school history. Brown joked after the game that the East Marion fans may not have wanted him around that long, but it is clear Brown, his kids and the community have a special bond. Good for him and them to finally get rewarded with a gold ball.
Raymond: The Rangers reign in 4A continued with a third straight state championship. They made easy work of Byhalia 72-58 then withstood a late run by Florence in the title game 77-62 to secure the three peat. Star senior Jakorie Smith has been a pivotal part of the run and finished with 20 pts and 9 rebounds in his final game.
Pine Grove: What is it about those Pine Grove girls? For three years running, Katie Bates’s crew has come to the Coliseum and beaten more athletic teams with the same brand of defense-first, shoot-last basketball. This year they took down Simmons 44-26, holding the Devils to 22.4% shooting for the game and winning the rebounding margin 36-23. You can now stamp three-peat on it.
Velma Jackson: When the Falcons play for the trophy, they bring it home. Velma made it five state championships in seven seasons — and 5-0 in title game appearances — with a 59-44 demolition of Holly Springs. The Falcons still play the same brand of hyper-aggressive defense, along with some helpful offensive tweaks from second year coach Chris Love. It all led to another trophy in the case at Camden.