Natchez High players get to work, silence outside noise

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Natchez High School basketball assistant coach David Haywood, right, passes the ball during a summer practice in the school gym. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez High School basketball assistant coach David Haywood, right, passes the ball during a summer practice in the school gym. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — As question marks loomed around Natchez High School’s basketball program this summer, the Natchez Bulldog players spurned rumors and embraced workouts.

Fear of head coach Mike Martin’s departure arose after an ad surfaced declaring Natchez High School was actively seeking a head basketball coach in late April. A source confirmed Natchez High School decided against renewing the long-time boys basketball head coach’s contract, however, last week, Natchez public relations coordinator Steven Richardson confirmed that then Natchez High principal Willis Smith changed his mind and decided to bring Martin back.

Despite the offseason speculation and head coaching drama, Natchez players were working with Martin and assistant coach David Haywood, preparing for a new season.

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“We let them handle their business, and we just handle ours,” senior Jadarrius Ivory said.

Addressing rumors suggesting Haywood would be moved to the middle school, Haywood said that option was never discussed with school officials. Haywood remained confident things would be business as usual for this basketball season.

“I plan on being here,” Haywood said. “Natchez is the reason why I wanted to get into education. I wanted to give back to this program. Natchez is a small town, and once rumors start fluctuating and people start hearing them over and over, certain people think it’s true.”

Haywood greeted a group of approximately 10 Natchez High players at practice Tuesday morning, including Ivory who came right over from a two-hour football practice.

Haywood said workouts in the summer would be integral for creating success this season, as the Bulldogs look to replace four starters who graduated in May. Trying to integrate new bodies into Natchez High’s system, the Natchez High School coaching staff thought it best not to participate in camps this summer, but instead schedule scrimmages against local teams to try and generate chemistry with a new starting lineup.

“We wanted to be more hands-on this summer,” Haywood said.

Haywood said the Bulldogs would have multiple players capable of handling the basketball on the court this season, trying to make up for the loss of Darryl Jones who ran point last season.

“He was very effective handling the ball and keeping the team calm in high pressure situations, so that’s a big role where we have a void,” Haywood said. “Ty’Ran Newman and Jadarrius Ivory, we have a good core of guys that are coming back. We have some real talented young guards coming up.”

Hopefully making up for the Bulldogs’ inexperience will be some added size in the frontcourt. Last season, Natchez High was undersized by most of its opponents, forcing Ivory to play every position on the floor. Haywood said he has two players in Elijah Hill and Larry Griffin that are 6’4” or taller.

Ivory hopes their size will translate to better overall defensive play.

“Our defense should be more stable,” Ivory said. “Everybody shouldn’t have to crash the boards and rebound like we did last year.”

While it’s been an offseason of mystery for Natchez High coaches and Bulldog fans, Haywood said he is proud of his team for ignoring the outside noise and rallying together to prepare for a new season.

“Coming in here and seeing young guys who like basketball and give up four or five hours of their morning to try and get better, that’s what wakes me up early in the morning,” Haywood said.