Hoops Preseason Rankings and Preview
By Lavel Johnson
(Last season's final record in parentheses)
1. Jackson Callaway (24-6); Winners of three state championships in four years the Chargers appear poised to add to their collection of hardware. The Chargers enter this season led by the talented duo of 6'3" sophomore guard Malik Newman, one of the top sophomores, if not the top sophomore, in the nation and 6'8" Sr. Forward TreShawn Bolden, who is nationally ranked in the Class of 2013. Newman and Bolden will be supported by an seasoned and experienced group of upperclassmen that includes: 6'4" Sr. Guard Dontarious Simmons, 5'7" Sr. Guard Jarvis Williams 6'0" Jr. Guard Cortez Mitchell, 5'11 Jr. guard Dontellius Ross, 6'4" Jr. post Dietrich Taylor and 6'4" Jr. post Rod Taylor.
2. Amanda Elzy (27-5); The defending 4A champion Panthers return an experienced and talented team that has all the ingredient to challenge for the No. 1 ranking in the state. 6'4 Sr. Wing Rahkeem Leahman (committed to Middle Tennessee State), 6'2" Jr. Guard Maurice Dunlap (committed to Mississippi State) and 6'8" Sr. Post Janarius Middleton are Division One prospects who return to the Panthers starting lineup and they should be joined by 6'6" Jr. Forward Gerald Glass, Jr. who sat out last year with an injury, and who also should garner division one interest.
3. Meridian (16-11); Two seasons removed from winning the 6A state title and taking home the No. 1 ranking in the state, head coach Randy Bolden's Wildcats are positioned to make another run for the top spot. A trio of newcomers, 6'3" Sr. PG Torloff Thomas, 6'7" Sr. Post Dennis Miles and 6'2" Sr. Guard Jordan Andrews, join experienced returnees 5'11" Sr. Guard Jaricus Hubbard and 6'4" Sr. Forward Phillip Walker to make the Wildcats one of the favorites in 6A.
4. Jackson Murrah (16-11); First year head coach Tim Speech take over the Mustangs after leading now closed Bailey Magnet to the 3A state tournament last year, and he finds himself in a position to make back to back trips to the state tournament as he inherits a talented and experienced team. Returning starters include 6'2" Sr. Guard Josh Carroll, 5'11" Jr. Guard Jacob Ivory, 6'8" Jr. Post Malik Hines and 6'1" Sr. G/F Marcus Love. 6'9" Sr. Post Albert Goss and 6'5" Jr. Post Jonathan Calvin provide added interior size and depth.
5. Madison Central (16-14); The Jaguars are paced by a trio of Juniors, 6'11" Center Joniah White, 6'4" Wing Xavian Stapleton and 6'1" Wing Chase Carroll. 5'10" Sr. Guard Chandler Milstead and 6'3" Forward Keon Spencer round out the starting lineup while 6'4" Sr. Forward Rodriquez Palmer and 6'1" Soph. Wing Leroy Buchannan provide depth. This promises to be the Jaguars best team since the state championship team of 2006.
6. Gulfport (29-5); The Admirals will be led by four returning starters from last year's 6A State Tournament semi-final team: 6'5" Sr. Post Eddie Lee, 6'3" Sr. Wing Otis Harvey, 5'10" Sr. Guard Jamal Jones and 5'9" Soph. PG Jashire Hardnett lead the Admirals in their quest to return to the Big House.
7. Provine (21-10); The Rams look to be Callaway's top challenger in the 5A ranks. Returning starters 6'4" Sr. Forward Dontaveon Robinson, 6'3" Sr. Wing Javares Brent and 6'1" Soph. Guard Deangelo West will be joined by 6'4" Soph. transfer Forward Jerrekius Davis in the Rams lineup as they push to return to the Big House after a year's absence.
8. Jim Hill (25-10); The defending 6A state champions have their work cut out for them as they try to defend their title. Coach Stan Speech's Tigers return three starters from last year's championship team, 6'2" Sr. Guard Trishunn White, 6'2" Sr. Guard Terry Morris and 6'5" Sr. Post Isaiah Williams. They will be joined by 6'5" Jr. Forward Anfernee Hampton and 6'2" Sr. Guard Devonte Reynolds as they try to work their way back to the Big House.
9. Biloxi (22-6); Indians were 6A state tournament semifinalist last year. Key Players: Tavonn Tyson 6'5" Sr. Forward, Johnathan Quarles 6'4" Sr. Forward, Garrett Robinson 6'0" Sr. Guard, Zach Parker 6'1" Jr. Guard
10. Pascagoula (26-4); Panthers were 5A state tournament semifinalist last year. Key Players: Tracy Hadley 6'0" Sr. Guard, Paul Plainer 5'10" Sr. Guard, Ladatran Deas 5'11" Jr. Guard, Caleb Caston 6'2" Jr. Forward
11. Clinton (24-6); Arrows were 6A North State tournament semifinalist last year. Key Players: Donell Williams 5'10" Sr. Guard, Anfernee Felton 6'0" Sr. Guard, Marcus Washington 6'3" Sr. Guard
12. Laurel (23-8); The Golden Tornadoes look to be the top challenger to Amanda Elzy in 4A. 6'6" Sr. Forward Deshon Bayless, 6'6" Sr. Forward Latrelle Milsap and 6'1" Jr. Guard Raekwon Pettis will look to lead the Golden Tornadoes as the try to make it back-to-back trips to the Big House.
13. Tupelo (26-9); Golden Wave lost a lot from last year's 6A state tournament finalist. Key Players: Antonio Green 6'0" Jr. Guard, Jordan Garmon 5'10" Sr. Guard, Alex Foster 6'4" Sr. Forward
14. Hattiesburg (22-7); Key Players: Tony Bridges 6'1" Sr. Guard, Randal Lowe 6'8" Sr. Center
15. Olive Branch (10-15); Key Players: Sam Craft 6'2" Sr. Guard, John Cornish 6'4" Jr. Guard
Of all the classes 6A by far has the most contenders. Start with the foursome of Meridian, Murrah, Madison Central and Gulfport, which all seem to be the best equipped to make a run for a state championship. Behind them are a number of teams which with a few breaks could challenge the aforementioned foursome. In the South, Biloxi, Forest Hill, Hattiesburg and St. Martin all have the potential to make it to the Big House. In the North, it's even more crowded as Jim Hill, Clinton, Tupelo, Olive Branch, Vicksburg, and Horn Lake all have solid teams.
5A looks to go thru Jackson Callaway again. But there are a handful of teams that may present a challenge. Their biggest challenger in the North is division mate Jackson Provine, with Jackson Lanier having some pieces that can develop into a threat and Oxford still has the size inside to present a challenge. Yazoo City and West Point are two more that bear watching. Down South Pascagoula seems to be the top dog but you never count out Wayne County even though they are a total unknown this year. Picayune, West Harrison, McComb, Jackson Wingfield and Moss Point all hope to mount a challenge.
Defending champion Amanda Elzy seems like an overwhelming favorite in 4A but there are a few teams that won't go down without a fight. Laurel gave the Panthers quit a fight in the 4A semis last year and appear to be the biggest threat to an Elzy repeat. In the North, Shannon, led by top gun Lakee Westbrook, looks to be the top contender, While Corinth, New Albany, Rosa Fort, Gentry and Noxubee County are teams you never take for granted. Down South, Columbia has a lot back from last year highly regarded team, and Tylertown will ride the back of big man Xavian Dillion. Port Gibson, West Lauderdale, Quitman, Raymond, Richland, and Bay all are teams to watch.
In North 3A the two teams that made it to the Big House last year both have to be considered possibilities to make a return trip, Aberdeen does it by committee while Booneville will ride the back of senior forward Kenny Paul Geno. Mooreville returns forward Austin Timms while Cleveland Eastside returns most of its roster and you never count out Ripley. In the South, Forest returns most of its roster including center Laderrick Scott, Dimitri Cook and Pass Christian look to be ready to make a run for the title, while Crystal Springs and West Marion are teams that bare keeping an eye on.
Baldwyn and S.V. Marshall represented the North in Jackson last year and they appear to be the top two teams again, while Coahoma County, Bruce, West Bolivar, Broad Street and Hamilton all bear keeping an eye on. South 2A shapes up much like the North as last year's two representative in Jackson, Bay Springs and William Sullivan appear to be in great shape to make return trips, however, keep an eye on Bassfield, Taylorsville, Scott Central and Wesson.
West Lincoln, Durant and Piney Woods appear to be the class of the South, but they can expect a challenge from Hinds AHS, Dexter and McAdams. In the North, Coldwater is always a contender, while any of a number of other teams could make a run for the Big House. Keep an eye on Biggersville, Byers, Ingomar, Myrtle, Drew, Shaw and West Oktibbeha.
Any mention of the top teams in the state would be incomplete without a mention of Jackson Prep (38-1); Prep was the class of the MAIS ranks last year and returns lots of fire power including 6'4" Sr. Guard/Forward Josh Williams and 6'4" Sr. Forward Ryan Buchanan as they strive for back-to-back MAIS overall state championships.