Staying cool under pressure
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Pressure is intoxicating.
When athletes scratch that itch for the first time &045; no matter if they succeed of fail &045; that scab festers into a full-blown hemmorage.
Deliver a win and you’re slapped with the glorious label of being a PTPer &045; primetime player. Lose and, well, you want the rock in your hands the next time to prove any doubting Thomases wrong.
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&uot;I’m not selfish, but when key times come around, they know whose hands the ball will be in,&uot; Jefferson County guard Joshfer Nichols said. &uot;My game is going to be there. I like to get my players involved. I can come out when I need to, but I know that everybody is going to key on me.&uot;
Nichols is one of six players to watch on the hardcourt this season, along with Wilkinson County’s Bryant Spiller, Adams Christian’s Glenn Williams, Vidalia’s Louis McNulty, Ferriday’s Ladrian Davis and Block’s Jeremy Washington.
The Tigers (6-10, 3-1 region 7-3A) had plenty of options in the last minute of ball games with 6-8 post Juan Wyatt, 6-3 guard Dewones Smith and Nichols (5-11).
However, both graduated in May and Wyatt is now coming off the bench for Sam West and Alcorn.
It puts the brunt of attention on the broad shoulders of Nichols to balance being Jefferson County’s playmaker with getting others involved.
&uot;If everybody paid attention from the bench last year they’ll already know their role,&uot; Nichols said. &uot;I feel like everybody will have their chance to step up this year.&uot;
Head coach Marcus Walton knew this summer’s experience in Brookhaven’s AAU league would be more valuable than ever as his players got used to life without Wyatt and Smith.
After struggling to find their places through non-region play, the Tigers have turned the tide in the nick of time.
&uot;One thing I can say as a whole about this season is it’s more of a teaching year and the kids are absorbing more. They listen well and are very accepting, but it’s been more of a challenge as a coach.&uot;
As opposed to last year’s squad that dripped with talent, each day is a bit of a mystery for Walton and his staff &045; assistants John Hollowell and Vincent Turner &045; when they turn the lights on in the gym.
But even as Walton instructs, he values the fundamentals his kids learn perhaps more than overseeing things taking shape on the court.
&uot;I still think we’ve got a lot of talent, but we’re a better team because we listen to our coaches,&uot; Nichols said.
Fortunately for the Rebels, resources come aplenty when pressure deals its cards this season.
Everybody is back, with the exception of Beau Brashier, for an ACCS team that made its first trip to Mississippi Private School Association’s Overall Tournament since the 1980-81 season.
Guard Glenn Williams has led the Rebels (9-1, 2-0 MPSA 2-AAA) from the point position with his shadowing defense and flamboyant play around the hoop.
&uot;We’ve got more depth than we’ve had since I’ve been playing,&uot; Williams said.
Dustin Case and Hunter Halford are perfect compliments to Williams in the backcourt, with Luke Ogden and 6-4 post Casey Gould manning the inside.
With talk of a new coach taking over the reins for John R. Gray in the new year, the successor must not disrupt a machine that is purring like a kitten.
&uot;We’ve got a real tough schedule coming up after the break,&uot; Gray said. &uot;All the teams we play are in the top seven or eight in the state. We’ll be competitive if we play good. The nights we don’t it’ll be difficult.&uot;
The Bulldogs have been ravaged by the graduations of Derrick Martin, Leon Stewart and Brian Williams.
Still, a hard-nosed 45-41 victory over Vicksburg Dec. 9, in which Natchez came back from 12 in the fourth period, showed the Bulldogs (5-7, 1-1 division 6-4A) can rise to the occasion.
Senior Damorris Merrick, who is the only starter who saw extensive playing time a year ago, credits the Bulldogs’ success to summer camps at Copiah-Lincoln and Southern Miss.
&uot;We tried to get as much time together during the summer as a team by going to camps,&uot; he said. &uot;I think we’ll be all right is we keep working hard in practice.&uot;
With Chase Brown out for the year and Dudley Guice Jr. headed to Jefferson County, Saints head coach David King was still looking for his No. 1 option before Friday.
But after Australian exchange student Robert Manson poured in 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in his first game &045; a win over Tensas &045; and followed that performance up with 24 points and 11 boards against Ben’s Ford Saturday, King may have found it.
&uot;We’ve had a hard time finding a go-to guy,&uot; King said. &uot;Gregory (Ketchings) and Ryan (Rachal) have been so unselfish their whole careers that they’re having a hard time adjusting. But I really like the chemistry.&uot;
While the Saints’ aggressive defense is a staple, the offense looks dramatically different than the run-and-gun style of last year’s MPSA Class A runner-up.
&uot;One thing this team has on its side is tradition,&uot; he said. &uot;They know what is expected of us around the state. It’s going to be some of the same old stuff and people will see us get after it defensively.&uot;
Any questions haters had about Bryant Spiller’s mettle in the heat of battle were answered with a 20-point outburst during a vital 55-52 7-3A win over Jefferson County Friday.
The senior guard was clutch with two made free throws late to keep the Wildcats (5-7, 2-2) ahead, as Jefferson County fought back from a 17-point deficit.
&uot;I’m the type of person that deals with pressure well,&uot; Spiller said. &uot;Game time is the opportunity for me to take over. When it comes down to the wire I want the ball.&uot;
The Wildcats lost sharpshooter Timothy Jarvis and post Kenny Knight from last year’s squad, which stubbed its toe toward the end of the season.
But widebody Kevin Slack and southpaw Gemall Andrews have made head coach Henry Storey forget about any lost seniors.
&uot;Just looking at the district and the four games we’ve played it’s going to be a tossup,&uot; said Storey, in his fifth season in Woodville. &uot;Everybody is going to beat up on everybody. It should be exciting.&uot;
Thanks to a semifinal run through the Class 2A football playoffs, the Vikings’ season on the hardcourt was delayed.
After dropping its first game, Vidalia has rebounded well in convincing wins over Davidson and rival Ferriday, the latter of which came Friday.
&uot;(Head coach Robert) Sanders has a good ball club. They’re going to be a team to contend with,&uot; Ferriday head coach James Davis said. &uot;Their high post and their low post work pretty good &045; especially with their outside shooting.&uot;
The Vikings’ speed is reason to believe a repeat trip to the Top 28 in Lafayette, La., is not out of the realm of possibilities.
Ladrian Davis knows his Trojans (4-5) will be disrespected this season with no players topping six feet in height.
He is well aware that teams will try to exploit that fact; however, it is a two-way street, and in Davis’ estimation you can’t guard what you can’t find.
&uot;We solve our height problems with man-to-man defense and on offense our guards put the ball on the floor and big men can’t guard that well,&uot; he said. &uot;I love crunch time. I like keeping the ball in my hands because mistakes can occur at any time.&uot;
Davis has no qualms about accepting more duties on this year’s team.
&uot;That lets me know I have to be constantly working with my teammates,&uot; he said. &uot;I try and get them into the ballgame early so they can get into the flow.&uot;
It’s been a long time since the Bears (5-2) have drank from victory’s golden chalice.
But with a bevy of seniors, including 6-5 post Jeremy Washington, and a new head coach who has brought a refreshed outlook, Block has thoughts of a district title dancing in its head.
&uot;Last year we struggled the whole season to get things together,&uot; said Washington, who was a part of the Bears last winning team as an eighth grader. &uot;Now, I’m the only true starter coming back, but we have a new coach who knows what he’s doing. He shows you what to do and explains what he wants out of us.&uot;
Whitney McCartney, who bonded with the players as an assistant football coach in Block’s road to the Class 1A quarters, replaces Carl Gilmore, who missed the last five games of the 2002-03 season when he was called to duty in Kuwait.
&uot;I think we’ve brought some of the momentum from football to the basketball court,&uot; McCartney said. &uot;We want to set the same kind of level here that Coach (Chad) Harkins has set through football.&uot;
That seems a tall order when figuring Harkins has claimed three straight district titles.
But like many, McCartney welcomes pressure.