Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The "G" Word in High School Sports

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2016 at 10:01 AM

Grant Hill
  • Grant Hill

Tiffany McCollins’ Memphis AAU team is on an out of town trip.Her players are in their hotel rooms. As the coach approaches one room door, she overhears a player saying to his teammate, “that’s gay, man.” She thinks, before she knocks.

After a moment, McCollins opens the door. “What’s gay?” she asks. A player replies, “Coach we were just playing. We didn’t mean anything by it.” “Then why say it?” she says.

Several young men are playing on an outside basketball court. One says, “Welcome to my block party, glad you can make it.” Another says, “The only triple-double you get, comes with fries.”  It is all fun and playful until one of the players says, “I can do this all day. Your moves are just gay.”

Just then former NBA player Grant Hill appears in the PSA and puts a halt to the exchange. “Using gay to mean dumb or stupid, not cool,” he says. His teammate at the time, Jared Dudley, adds, “Its offensive to gay people.”

In 2008, the "Think Before You Speak" campaign, aimed at raising the awareness of offensive terms used by young athletes against the LGBTQ community was launched nationally. A series of television, radio, magazine, and newspaper ads followed.

Eight years later, was the campaign successful? “No,” says McCollins, “because ('that’s so gay') is still being said. It’s regular verbiage. It’s just fluid language.”

Harding Academy boys basketball coach Kevin Starks has witnessed it also. “Some teenagers think they can say anything.”

“It upsets me because it abuses the true meaning,” says Damien Herron, a 9th grader at Grizzlies Prep, who plays basketball for his church. “It’s everywhere,” he says of hearing young people call people or situations gay. “It’s in my neighborhood, school, just everywhere.”

“It’s really common,” says Martavious Hampton, Program Manager for Sexual and Minority Health, at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. “'That’s gay' type phrases are used all the time, typically in high schools.”

Research published by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network) supports Hampton’s opinion.  According to a 2013 GLSEN survey, 47.3 percent of students who identify as LGBTQ say they hear the phrase, “that’s gay,” frequently.  “Fag,” or “dyke” is heard frequently by 38.6 percent of the students in the survey. While a little more than 20 percent say they frequently hear the expression, “no homo.”

McCollins, who has coached both boys and girls middle- and high school-aged teams, says she hears the remarks only when dealing with her boys squads. “I’m not going to say (girls) don’t say it, but I don’t hear it” she explains. 

“For guys it is a way to display their masculinity,” says Hampton. “It makes me feelthat there is negative connotation with males expressing their appreciation with one another. It’s part of hip-hop culture; it is part of U.S. culture to make statements like that.”

But there is a change in the trend according to GLSEN. Their latest report, completed in 2013, showed a significant decrease in homophobic remarks used by high school students. In 2001 80 percent of all students heard homophobic remarks. In 2013 the number dropped to a little more than 60 percent. The expression, “that’s so gay” continues to be most used anti-gay expression according to sampled LGBT students nationwide.

More is being done to further reduce the number, according to Hampton. “There are more conversations taking place in the schools,” he says. “There are more anti-bullying campaigns and efforts. And there are more LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and or questioning) organizations for youth.   

Plus, Starks and McCollins will admit, sometimes when teens call someone or a situation gay, it is not always meant to antagonize or upset. “They may say it in jest,” says Starks. “Sometimes they don’t think of it as offensive.”

Still, it becomes the perfect time for what Starks calls a teaching moment. “If I’m not teaching guys life lessons, then I’m not doing my job. I tell them it’s not okay,” he says of players and students using anti-gay terminology. “They are not going to treat anyone with disrespect. Any time I hear my players say anything that may be offensive to anyone I address it. I like to use the quote from Maya Angelou, ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’”

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Jesus Patino: 11 Years of Success at White Station HS

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2016 at 2:16 PM

White Station basketball Coach Jesus Patino
  • White Station basketball Coach Jesus Patino
May 9 was a big day for White Station forward Justin Shaw. He signed a letter-of-intent to play basketball at Kaskaskia College, a community college in Centralia, Illinois. It’s not the big-name school that some of the more celebrated Spartans in the past have gone on to attend, but for White Station boys’ basketball coach Jesus Patino, it’s very significant.

That's because it means Patino (and White Station) it continues an 11-year streak that a Spartans player has received a college basketball scholarship.

“Eleven years,” Patino says, which is also the number of years he's held the job at WSHS. “And every year we’ve put at least one player in college.” Patino says an average of three Spartans players per year have signed to play on the college level during his tenure.

He remembers his first Spartan to sign. During the 2005-06 season, 6’-5” center, Chris Williams, like Shaw, signed with a junior college. He eventually transferred to Arkansas State.

Former Memphis Tigers guard, Joe Jackson, who graduated from White Station in 2010, is perhaps the most notable and accomplished Spartan Patino has coached. Jackson is currently playing professional basketbal in Korea. “He’s the king of Korean basketball,” says Patino.

Ferrakohn Hall, who graduated in 2009 and attended Seton Hall and Memphis, plays professional ball in Arabia. Andre Hollins, the prize of the 2011 class, graduated from the University of Minnesota and now plays in Germany.

Patino is just as proud of some of the less-heralded players who have come through the program under his watch. James White, who along with Jackson, Hall, and Hollins, helped the Spartans win a state title, is the Tennessee State men’s basketball team video coordinator.

Patino says his most talent rich-class graduated in 2014. “We had eight guys from that class receive scholarships,” he says. The seniors included Leron Black (Illinois), Chris Chiozza (Florida) and Davell Roby (St. Louis).

Justin Shaw
  • Justin Shaw

Since their departures, Patino has been in a rebuilding mode. “We lost nine seniors that year,” he says. “But rebuilding is fun.” Still, it doesn’t come without challenges. “I don’t recruit,” Patino says of the practice that has become common in the high school ranks.

Plus, the school’s standing as the premier basketball program in the Memphis area has taken a hit over the past two years, giving way to teams like East and Hamilton. Patino is not fazed. “We do things the right way,” he says. “We will continue to do so. It’s more than basketball. It’s about helping make kids great human beings. It’s a combination of everything. Our staff teaches discipline, leadership, respect, and ownership.”

Shaw agrees. He also believes it’s a team approach between coaching staff and student athlete. “My coaches were great,” he says. “I had to be able to take coaching. If I didn’t have the discipline to do it, I wouldn’t have taken it.”

On occasion, Patino has been asked if it is time for him to move on. “I tell all of my players, when they graduate, I’m leaving,” he jokes. “We’ve won state titles and several tournaments nationwide. We’ve done everything. I’ve had opportunities to leave. But I’m home.”

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mario Reed: Fighting to Get Back Up

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 11:42 AM

Mario Reed is on the rise, both literally and figuratively. Reed gained attention in Shelby County back on September 12, 1997. He was a Millington Central High School football player, making what he thought was a routine tackle on a kickoff return. After the collision, he heard his teammates and his coaches shout to him to get up. But he couldn’t. “I couldn’t move,” he remembers. “I could only feel the wind in my face.”

Reed was told he would never have movement from his neck down. “I was going to be like Christopher Reeve,” he says, referring to the late actor who played Superman and later became a quadriplegic after a horse riding accident.

University of Memphis football Coach Mike Norvell and Mario Reed
  • University of Memphis football Coach Mike Norvell and Mario Reed

“I’m a fighter,” Reed says. “You tell me I can’t do it and I want to prove I can do it.” More than 13 surgeries later, with a total commitment from Reed and his family, he continues to prove his initial diagnosis wrong. After nerve transfer surgery, Reed now has feeling and movement in both of his arms. He says he’s not done. He has several goals in life. His ultimate goal is to do what he hasn’t done since the football accident: “Goal number one is to walk,” he says. “If I can take a step on my own, then my dream will be fulfilled.” He hopes to have the nerve transfer surgery in his legs. He knows success is not a given.

For now, Reed is at least once again upright, thanks to the standing-power wheelchair he received April 11, the day before his 34th birthday. “It allows me to stand. I can lay back and stretch my legs out. It has 30 motions.” The best feature is not is included in the manual: “I can talk to people eye-to-eye,” he says. “It makes me feel like I’m standing on my own two feet.”

Because of his new device, Reed was excited to attend the Memphis Chapter National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete Dinner, where he was one of the guest speakers. But the weekend before the dinner, he broke his ankle transferring from his chair to his lift. {image-2]

Still, he showed up at the dinner to give out the award named in his honor: The Mario Reed Courage Award is given annually to the athlete or sports figure who has demonstrated the fortitude to overcome adversity. “It’s an honor to have an award named after me,” he says. “I have an award to present someone. It shows that life can throw you a curve ball, but never give up.”

Harold Graeter, a board member with the foundation agrees. “He’s a special guy,” says Graeter. “He goes through years of therapy. He goes back to Millington Central and graduates. He spends times volunteering. He is the perfect example of what courage is.”

Shon Coleman, a former St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Auburn football star who was drafted in April by the Cleveland Browns, is this year’s courage award winner.

Some of Reed’s other goals include directing a youth center and raising paralysis awareness. He’s working to do the former by volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Memphis. He hopes to achieve the latter through his non-profit, the Mario Reed Foundation. He is also producing a documentary about his life.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Penny Rebuilds East Locker Room Lounge — and Team Fellowship

Posted By on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 at 11:56 AM

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The final bell at East High School rings at 2:15 p.m. While most students are making their way out of the building, the Mustangs boys’ basketball team is preparing for a session with their tutors. It's a game night and East is playing host to Overton, but the players have to make sure they are taking care of business in the classroom beforehand.

“Education is first,” says East coach Penny Hardaway. “We are really big on that over here.” Wednesdays are reserved for ACT prep. Junior forward Radarious Washington echoes Hardaway’s sentiment. “Grades first,” he says of the tutoring sessions, “It’s been going really good.”

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There are about four hours between tutoring and tip-off. It used to be idle time. Hardaway, a former Memphis Tiger and NBA all-star, has changed that by transforming the boys’ locker room into a lounge. “I just tried to come in and do some things,” says the first-year head coach. “I wanted to make it a home away from home.”

The upgrades have made it easier on the team. Instead of going home and then coming back to the school, the players have a place to create fellowship and study on campus. “You don’t have to worry about anybody being late,” says senior guard Courtney Carter. “Everybody is already here. You know where everybody is. So if we have to go through a walk-through everybody is here.”

“We can bring food in and they can just kind of lounge,” Hardaway adds.

One of the more notable changes in the locker room is the paint job. It has gone from a dingy white to shiny black and maroon. “The painting was definitely major, because we wanted to get the Mustangs’ colors,” says Hardaway. “You come in here you know where you are. You are in Mustangs Country.”

Part of the renovation included turning the shower area into a meal room by getting rid of the stalls, adding a fresh coat of paint, and moving in tables and chairs. The room doubles as a study hall.

Hardaway had the old lockers taken out and replaced them with smaller ones. They were painted and decals were added with the players' names.

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Once the storage area was cleared out, it was transformed into a film/meeting room. In the middle of the locker room is the Mustangs’ logo over a freshly painted floor. Along the walls are flat screen televisions and video game consoles. A high-tech stereo sound system helps keep the atmosphere lively. Hardaway also added black cushioned couches to add to the lounge-like experience.

Mustangs’ senior forward Eric Banks, who also played on the Mustangs football team, takes a video joy stick and plays EA Sports’ Madden Football. “I’m good at it,” he says, “but I wouldn’t say I’m the best.” But playing video games isn’t the most important benefit for Banks. He likes the way the lounge has helped foster a brotherhood among the players. “It gives us a place to bond with each other,” he says, which is exactly what Hardaway wants.

Hardaway reflects on how his coach at Treadwell created a family atmosphere for him and his teammates. “Garmer Currie told us that no one man is bigger than the team,” he says. “We are a family. That is what I’m trying to teach out here.”

He also believes the atmosphere will prepare his players for the next level. “We want to make the environment more like a college,” says Hardaway. “We tried to change the culture because we want all these guys thinking college. We feel like these guys have an opportunity to play (on the college level).”

“It’s getting us ready for the next level,” Banks agrees. “This is how college will be, just a bigger facility. It’s getting us ready for what to expect.”

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Hardaway gave the girls’ locker room a remake as well, something East Athletic Director Marcus Wimberly is glad to see. “(The girls) were excited when they saw the finished product,” says Wimberly. “Whatever the boys get the girls should get. It’s good that guys like (Hardaway) give back to the neighborhood, like he does. He does a tremendous job with these kids and they love him for it.”

How much did the renovation cost? “I don’t have any idea,” says Wimberly, “but it wasn’t cheap. They had to do some major work in those locker rooms. It was pretty bad.” Later that night East went out and showed the meaning of family on the court, soundly defeating Overton, 72-24.

Monday, January 25, 2016

"Golf Saved My Life"

Champion LeMoyne-Owen golfer has much to be grateful for — and a great golf game.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 10:51 AM

Dominique Worthen
  • Dominique Worthen

Golf has been good for former LeMoyne-Owen standout Dominique Worthen. He reminds himself of this as he reflects on his short but amazing two-year run at LOC.

During the 2015 college golf season, Worthen won the PGA National Minority Collegiate Championship. He also won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Tournament title and was named the conference’s golfer of the year. Late during the summer, he set the course record at Ted Rhodes Golf Course in Nashville by posting a 60 in the Duffers Golf Tournament benefiting Sickle Cell research.

He has taken pictures with former Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, laughed it up basketball hall of famer Magic Johnson, rubbed shoulders with local hoops legend Penny Hardaway, and appeared on a social media post with Grizzlies’ Tony Allen.

But those things are part of the icing. The cake is represented in the name of his website, golfsavedmylife.com. It is what Worthen believes: Golf saved his life.

He understands he could have fallen in the same trap as his older brother, who is currently in prison and facing a possible sentence of nearly 200 years on numerous charges. “Basketball and football are sports,” he says. “Golf is a lifestyle. I didn’t always talk this way. I wasn’t always so friendly. I wasn’t always so honest. I didn’t always respect people. The game of golf taught me everything I needed to know about life. Golf is a sport of integrity. You’re not being watched at all times.”

If golf saved his life, then his father, Walter Worthen, did also, by introducing him to the game when he won custody of a then 13-year-old Worthen and took him out of foster care. Dominique resisted the game at first. “(My dad) used to take me to the golf course and I was thinking, 'I’m not able to play this game. Don’t nobody look like me. I can’t dunk on nobody. I can’t shoot on nobody. I can’t cross nobody over. It’s not physical. There are no girls out there.'”

But his alternative was to do household chores. Golf was the lesser of the two evils. So off he went with his father to the course, and that’s where the love affair began. “The sensation …” he says as he marvels at the thought of his first drive he hit off the tee. “Love.”

“Because all before I (played) I was told it’s hard, it’s hard,” he says. “It’s the hardest game you’ll ever play. So the satisfaction of doing something that people say you can’t do and you’re not supposed to do that fast, is a feeling that can’t be replaced.”

Worthen calls what he brings to the golf course a “gift” from God. “They come out the womb learning the mechanics of the golf swing,” he says of some of his competitors. “They were taught at an early age. I learned by watching,” he says. “My dad would tell me I would need to do this a little more or this a little less. It was natural ability, and he never really tampered with that. My dad told me what to look for in a golf swing and I emulated that.”

Worthen and Magic Johnson
  • Worthen and Magic Johnson

His father caddies on the PGA Tour for Rob Oppenheim. Just last season, the two were clawing their way out of the Web.com Tour. Worthen’s golf resume and his drive suggest he could one day join his dad and Oppenheim on the tour. But golf is an expensive game and since graduating from LOC with a degree in Business Administration in December, Worthen is on the hook for his own expenses.

“I’m looking for financial help,” he says. “I’m looking for resources,” he says. “Talent is just a checkpoint as far as golf goes. In golf, you have to buy your ticket. Travel expenses. Room and board. Golf equipment. Golf balls. Golf tees. Golf hat. Golf pants. Golf shoes. There’s a uniform to this thing. I’ve got to put together a syndicate to get me on the PGA Tour. It’s all about money right now. It’s all about opportunity.”

He shakes his head at the thought of being a high-caliber golfer yet having to pay his way through college. “I was taking out loans just to attend (LOC),” he says. “A national champion and I’m taking out loans. That’s crazy! SIAC Golfer of the Year. All SIAC team. SIAC Tournament Champion. Then I win a tournament televised nationally. But when I come home I’m taking out a loan to go to school. It’s crazy.”

He believes his situation would be different if he was as good in a more high profile sport. “If I was a basketball player … ” he says, and then pauses, not completing the sentence.

But he doesn’t regret his sport of choice. “It made me a grinder,” he says of golf. “It made me a fighter.” And it saved his life.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Kevin Kane: Voice of the FACS Crusaders

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2015 at 12:44 PM

Kevin Kane in the FACS press box. - JAMIE GRIFFIN
  • Jamie Griffin
  • Kevin Kane in the FACS press box.

Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (MCVB) President and CEO Kevin Kane is making a routine flight to London to promote the Bluff City. He’s stopped and asked, “Are you John Tesh?” Maybe it’s the defined jaw line he has in common with the musician/television broadcaster/radio host that sparks the inquiry. One thing is for sure, Kane, like the multi-talented Tesh, wears many hats.

On a Memphis morning in mid-October, Kevin Kane is meeting with corporate big wigs hoping someone will express an interest in sponsoring the Memphis Open Tennis Tournament and help keep the long standing tradition in the city. Professional tennis in Memphis began in 1976. That year also marks the start of a football constant at First Assembly Christian School (FACS). It was the year Kane became the voice of the Crusaders.

The school was founded in 1972 and by 1976 the athletics program was set to roll out its varsity teams. With a couple weeks left before the start of the football season, just about everything was set: the field, the players, the coaches. But something was missing. The athletics department realized they did not have anyone to announce the football games. “I said, 'I can do that,'” remembers Kane, who at the time was coaching the 7th and 8th grade boys’ basketball team at FACS. “I figured I do it one week.”

Kane has never been so wrong. This season was his 39th behind the radio microphone for Crusaders’ home games.

Kane was playing on the junior varsity team at what was then Memphis State when he started announcing games at FACS. He wanted to be a coach. In addition to heading up the Crusaders’ middle school boys’ basketball team for seven years, he also coached tennis and basketball for a year at Lausanne.

But the coaching bug gave way to other career ambitions. “Somewhere along the way I got it out of my head that I wanted to be a coach and decided to get into the hospitality industry,” says Kane. “I started in the airline business, then from there to the hotel industry to promoting Memphis.”

He started working with the MCVB in 1991 and his life would soon undergo major changes afterward. He got married. Then he and his wife became parents of two.

Through all the changes, the one thing that has remained consistent is his Friday night routine during the fall. “People have asked me if there was something else I would rather be doing on a Friday night,” says Kane. “There have been times I could have been doing other things, but I take my obligations seriously. I don’t know if I’ve ever missed a game when I’m in town. Maybe once or twice, but that’s because I was part of a wedding.”

Crusaders Athletics Director Philip Spain can vouch for Kane. Spain has been with the school for 32 of Kane’s 39 years, serving as the varsity football coach from ’83 to ’06. “He’ll come in from London, England just to do our game,” says Spain. “You know he’s busy, but come game time he’s always there. He has meant everything to our program.”

Spain says Kane is known for his classy touch in the booth. It is an area of pride for Kane. “I’ve tried to be fair and balanced for both schools,” says Kane. “Parents from opposing schools or opposing coaches have always told me that.”

Crusaders faithful enjoy his signature call. “When it’s a group tackle, I usually say, ‘met at the line and tackled by a host of Crusaders,’” says Kane. “Everybody in the press box gets a kick out of me saying it. When I say it, it’s usually five or six players on the tackle.”

Because of Kane’s dedication and longevity as the Crusaders’ announcer, he’s had the opportunity to do something very rare. “I’ve had the privilege of announcing father-sons,” he says. “I was the voice of the Crusaders when their fathers played and 20-something years later the fathers’ kids are playing there. That’s special. I’ve been doing this so long I’m announcing second generations.”

A third generation is unlikely. Kane says he plans to step away after the 2016 season, his 40th. “I’ve told (FACS administrators) that next year is probably it. Forty is a good number — 40 years as the voice of the Crusaders. Maybe it’s time for the voice of the Crusaders to pass the mantle on to someone else.

“I got married so late I probably won’t live long enough to be married for 40 years, so this may be the only 40-year tenure I’ve had for anything, being the voice of the Crusaders.”

Spain is saddened by the possibility of Kane retiring from behind the mic but understands. “He’s been very faithful to us,” says Spain. “But his kids are getting older and he wants to be able to spend more time with them.”

But Spain won't not have to look far if the Crusaders find themselves in a bind. “I will still do fill-in,” says Kane.

Meanwhile the MCVB will keep Kane busy. In addition to trying to help find a sponsor for the Memphis Open, Kane wants to oversee major renovation to the Memphis Cook Convention Center. “We have a multi-phased plan that will start with a facelift of the Convention Center,” he says. He believes the first stage will start in the spring of 2016 and will likely take two years to complete.

“The second phase we will actually expand the Convention Center going over Front Street, going over the trolley tracks and over Bass Pro Drive. That phase will probably take a decade.” So if Kane is still with the MCVB when it is projected to be finished, he would be three years shy of 40 years with the organization.

So Kane may get to fly to London on business many more times by then. He may hear the Tesh comparisons a few more times also. Or the ones comparing him to a certain business entrepreneur turned politician. “I’ve also heard I look like Donald Trump,” he says, “and that scares me.”

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Isaiah Stokes: Following in Brother Jarnell's Footsteps

Posted By on Wed, Nov 4, 2015 at 12:45 PM

( lto r) Isaiah Stokes, trainer Jevonte Holmes, Jarnell Stokes. - JAMIE GRIFFIN
  • Jamie Griffin
  • ( lto r) Isaiah Stokes, trainer Jevonte Holmes, Jarnell Stokes.

Before the start of this year’s high school football season, Lausanne’s offensive/defensive lineman, Isaiah Stokes, had plenty of post-graduate options. Lynx football coach Kevin Locastro recalls most of them. “Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Memphis, LSU, Cincinnati were all recruiting him heavily,” he says. Stokes received a scholarship offer from most of them, including the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles.

But there was no need to rush a decision. Stokes had yet to even begin his junior year. Still he wanted to give a verbal commitment … to basketball. He told Locastro he was stepping away from the gridiron to focus on the hardwood.

Although, at 6-8, 280 lbs., Stokes was the centerpiece of the Lynx basketball team as a sophomore, he was not garnering the attention in hoops as he was in football. Back in 2012, USA Today called the then 8th grader, “possibly the scariest 8th grade football player ever” mainly because of his size. 247Sports.com still has him ranked as the 8th best recruit in Tennessee from the class of 2017.

So Locastro knew he needed to say something. “I understand (basketball) is his first love,” says Locastro. “I was supportive and want what is best for him. But I also wanted him to understand the opportunity he had moving forward in football. I wanted him to sit and compare those to the opportunities in basketball. In football he could play anywhere he wanted.”

But Stokes is comfortable with his choice. “I’ve put a tremendous amount of time in my decision and I am happy with my decision,” says Stokes. “Don’t get me wrong. I still love the game of football and I appreciate every college football team that has put their time in to recruit and offer me (a scholarship) but, with the resources and minds that I have to teach me basketball, I feel that I can find success in it.”

One of those minds he refers to is his big brother and Memphis Grizzlies forward, Jarnell Stokes, who had a similar decision to make when he was in high school. “Too many close calls, too many close injuries (in football),” Jarnell says of his choice to dedicate himself to basketball. “I was also a consensus top 20 recruit in the country in basketball so that made my decision easier.”

Yet Jarnell understood what was best for him when he committed to play basketball at Tennessee may not be the same for his younger brother. “I took him to Tennessee’s campus,” says Jarnell, “and he saw how some of those linemen looked. I said ‘Isaiah if that’s what you want to do you can do it. But if you want to play basketball you’re going to have to lose some weight.’”

Advice taken. Isaiah’s father, Willie Stokes, watched his son drop from 280 to 254 lbs. “He worked so hard” says Willie. “He really needed to, because he needed his wind more.” “He looks more like a basketball player now,” adds Locastro.

“He basically looked himself in the mirror and decided he wanted to play basketball,” says Jarnell. “He lost the weight and I’m proud of him.”

Having a brother who plays in the NBA helping monitor his conditioning drills and serve as a mentor doesn't hurt either. “The most important upside that my brother teaches is that most people in high school lack the knowledge of the game,” says Isaiah. “For example; how to read defenses, how to score anywhere on the floor, making the right plays, when to make the right pass and most important is how to win.”

Isaiah averaged a double-double in points and rebounds last year with the Lynx. Shedding nearly 30 pounds should make him even more of a threat this season. “His size is similar to mine, but his game isn’t,” says Jarnell, known for his physical play inside. “He plays like a point forward. I think he plays like (San Antonio Spurs forward) Boris Diaw. He’s a good ball handler. He can shoot lights out and he’s starting to show a real work ethic.”

Although he has yet to receive an offer from the Alabamas of the college basketball world, Isaiah is starting to gain more interest from Division I basketball programs like Memphis, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and South Carolina. And if for some reason he’s not happy with those options, there’s always football. “He still can be a great football player if he decides to,” says Willie.

“Our relationship hasn’t changed,” says Locastro. “Like I said, he could play anywhere he wants and that includes for us at Lausanne.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Just One of the Guys?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2015 at 12:11 PM

Joi Gary - JAMIE GRIFFIN
  • Jamie Griffin
  • Joi Gary

With a win against Hillcrest all but guaranteed, Memphis Academy of Health Science (MAHS) football coach Cedric Miller summoned one of his young cornerbacks, number 20, to the field. It was the freshman’s first taste of game action not only of the season, but as a high school football player.

Shortly after entering the game, Joi Gary would announce herself to the Shelby County football world by lowering the boom and making a tackle on a Vikings tailback.

When asked about it later, Gary just shrugged her shoulders as if it was business as usual. “It was fun. I got in and made a tackle,” she deadpanned. “I’ve been playing for four years,” she added. “I first started off playing flag but then I wanted to get more intense with it and just put on a helmet and shoulder pads.”

It was also no big deal for Miller. It’s not the first time a girl has suited up for one of his teams during his 17 years of coaching. “It was during registration. (Gary) came over to me and said 'Coach, I want to play football,'” he said. “I’ve had two young ladies to play for me before. Two of them when I was (coaching) at Wooddale. So it wasn’t a problem with me.”

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But Miller will admit Gary’s presence on the team is significant to others, particularly her teammates. Until this season, several of the Lions’ players had never played football with a female. “Respect is demanded because of who she is,” Miller said. “She is a model student. And I think it is building character in those young men, because they have to carry themselves in a certain manner in order for her to be out here and make it successful.”

“I had never played with a girl before,” said Lions’ senior running back LaDerrius Burks. “It’s fun having her around. She’s the life of the team. If she can do it, I think many other girls can come out here and show the same charisma she does.”

Gary’s a welcome sight for fans also. Bridget Thompson, mother of Gary’s teammate Katrell Thompson, had her camera phone ready when Gary took the field against Hillcrest. She recorded Gary’s tackle and later loaded it to Youtube. “I would talk to her during games and she seemed so anxious and excited for an opportunity to play,” said Thompson. “But the first couple of games she didn’t play. I told her, when you play, I’m going to record you. She eventually did and as soon as she got in she was on a tackle.”

Gary’s main concern is not about being a fan favorite but about getting more opportunities. “You work hard in practice so you can show up, then show out, “she said.

At 5’, 0”, 130 pounds, Gary is a student of the game, according to Miller. He and Gary’s teammates are quick to point out that her spot on the roster is not a token one.

“She going to be really good,” said sophomore lineman Thompson. “She can play, and I like playing with her.”

“Overall she’s a good player,” said Burks. “I know she can handle her own.”

“She’s a good tackler,” said Miller. “Once she proved she could get it done, we told her to go for what she knows. In the future if she wants to continue to grow and come out here and play football for MAHS, she’s more than welcome. She can help us with leadership and some of the skills she brings from playing basketball.”

Gary will play point guard for the MAHS girls’ basketball team when hoops season begins. She has yet to decide whether football or basketball is her sport of choice. She feels she will never have to pick just one. “I want to do both,” she said. “I can’t picture myself not doing one or the other.”

But what Gary has chosen is her favorite football player and it’s not Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman or Jets’ shutdown corner Darrelle Revis. Her favorite player is “(Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady,” she said.

Why? “He’s a winner and I like to win.”

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Phillips Leaving Mitchell; Andre Turner on Radar

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2015 at 11:15 AM

When Faragi Phillips took over the Mitchell High School boys’ basketball head coaching position in 2011, one of his first calls was to former Mitchell player and Memphis Tigers icon Andre Turner. He wanted to know if Turner had any interest in joining his coaching staff as a lead assistant.

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Turner was being pursued by other Memphis area high schools for head coaching jobs. But those schools were lacking something in comparison. “I couldn’t see myself coaching somewhere else while my picture is all over (Mitchell’s gymnasium),” said Turner. “It just wouldn’t have felt right.”

Together, in four years, Phillips and Turner helped guide the Tigers to back-to-back state runner-up finishes followed by back-to-back state titles the past two seasons. Yet there will not be a three-peat, at least not for Phillips, who officially resigned Monday morning.

“I’ve accomplished pretty much all I can accomplish here,” said Phillips. “I don’t want to over-extend my time. We’ve reached the pinnacle here.”

Phillips, who delivered Mitchell the schools’ only state titles, will be a man without a home, at least for now. Although he submitted his letter of resignation Monday morning, Phillips has yet to decide where his next destination will be.

“My goal is to get to the next level,” he said. For Phillips, that’s joining the college ranks. He’s been a head coach for the past eight years, four at Mitchell and four at Ridgeway Middle before that. He says he has no problem being a college assistant if a head coaching job on the collegiate ranks does not materialize.

“I think after being a head coach you can understand the importance of being a good assistant,” he said. “You know the qualities your head coach is looking for.”

Although he would be willing to relocate for a chance to join a college team, Phillips said he would not be as willing to do the same if he were to take another high school coaching job. “It would have to be something really remarkable for me to leave Memphis. My family loves it here.”

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The blow of losing Phillips could be softened if Turner is willing to replace him. Mitchell’s administration has already reached out to Turner to gauge his interest. Turner admits he’s interested, but undecided because of the timing. “If it’s feasible I will certainly consider it,” he said. “What I love about Mitchell is that its family oriented atmosphere. I love the togetherness.”

For Turner to accept the position, if it is offered, he would have to resign from his other job with Shelby County Schools. Turner has served as the Operation Specialist with the Career Technical program for the past six years.

But for Turner it’s also about what’s right for the student athletes. “I don’t want to cheat the kids,” he said. “Being a coach at Mitchell requires a lot of time and dedication. And you have to be willing to do that.”

Whoever takes over the job is in for a rebuilding process. Four of the teams’ five starters from this past season are seniors.

Both Phillips and Turner are proud of what the team accomplished on the court, and said they are just as enthused about what the players have done in the classroom. Mitchell’s boys’ basketball team has a 3.4 collective grade-point-average. Five of their outgoing seniors will attend college next season. Class 1A TSSAA State Tournament MVP, Jeremiah Martin, will sign with Memphis Wednesday. Phillips’ son, Kylan Phillips, along with Devonte Shipp, and Lorenzo Hunt will sign with Mississippi Valley State. Vintavious Coppage will join them on an academic scholarship.

But the biggest lost could be Coach Phillips, who was charged with rebuilding the program when he was hired four years ago. “I’m going to miss here,” said Phillips. “I will forever be a (Mitchell) Tiger.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Other Lawson Brothers

Posted By on Tue, Feb 3, 2015 at 12:32 PM

Johnathan and Chandler Lawson
  • Johnathan and Chandler Lawson

The first family of Memphis basketball is positioned all around the Havenview Middle School gymnasium. The father, Keelon Lawson, sits midcourt on the second row of the visitors’ side of the gym. He’s a silent observer. His wife, Dedra, is on the far end, on the opposite side of the court. She will soon be giving continuous instructions for the game referees. They are not here to watch their University of Memphis-bound sons, Keelon, Jr. and Dedric, play. They're here to watch the youngest Lawsons, Jonathan and Chandler.

Dedric sits two rows behind his father. Sixth grader Jonathan, is moving about, laughing with teammates. He looks like Dallas Mavericks’ guard Rajon Rondo with a smile he may have borrowed from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Chandler sits alone at the very top of the bleachers. Maybe he needs the space. The eighth-grader is already 6’-7” and has been put on notice that he will soon reach 7’. He welcomes the possibility. “I like being taller than everybody,” he says.

Height is a big-time commodity in basketball. Luke 12:48 of the Bible reads, “To whom much is given much will be demanded.” Chandler is familiar with both, which may explain his pregame solitary. His coach, Cedric Franklin, sums him up with two words, “a blessing.”

Coach Cedric Franklin
  • Coach Cedric Franklin

Franklin has had many of blessings himself, when it comes to the Lawson boys. He’s coached all four. He will not say if Chandler is any better or worse than his older brothers. “He’s right in there with all of them. They all know the game.” he says. “But the difference is that Chandler is taller and longer. He’s also a little bit more athletic than Dedric was.

“I compare Chandler to a 14-year old LeBron James, special phenomenal athlete,” Franklin says. “Well ahead of his time. He makes the job easy. He has all the skills and attributes for the game. He’s a ferocious rebounder. He’s an intimidator on defense. He can win the game without scoring and he makes everyone around him better. Anything you want, he can give it to you.”

Chandler gives his own assessment of his game, “I’m a playmaker. I like to get my team involved first.” Other teams are not buying his self-assessment. Havenview is focused on stopping him. He gets a lot of attention from defenders, particularly in the paint.

Havenview players are hacking Chandler as soon as he touches the ball. His mother is making sure the officials are not missing this. “All they’re doing is fouling,” she protests. Then later, “You didn’t see that? You’re not going to call that?” Chandler appears to be frustrated, looking over to the refs for relief.

His dad, who coached at Hamilton before taking an assistant coaching position under Josh Pastner at the University of Memphis, understands Chandler will have to get used to the abuse. “He’s my non-aggressive one out of my boys,” he says. “But he can be really good. He’s still a kid in his mind. I just try to tell him to play hard all the way to the end.”

Still Chandler finds a way to stamp his imprint on the game. Big block and stare down here. Nice pass on the break there. He finds his brother Jonathan alone on the other end of the court for an easy lay-in.

How did Johnathan get so open? He likes to gamble more than Kenny Rogers. He sticks his arms into passing lanes. He sneaks to creates double teams. He taps the ball from behind his man. The end result is usually the same, as he takes off down court for an uncontested two.

Like Chandler, Johnathan considers himself a playmaker. He sounds a lot like Chandler. “I like to get my teammates involved and block shots,” he says. “I score when I have to.” Johnathan is long and versatile also. He is one of four American Way players, including Chandler, who can bring the ball up the court. He also plays on the wing.

“He’s a hybrid point guard,” say Franklin, of Johnathan. “He’s a baby Magic Johnson.” He’s also just two points shy of tying Chandler for the games’ high scorer against Havenview. Johnathan finishes with 14 points and Chandler 16 during American Way’s 50-36 win.

By the time the game is over, Dedric has already left the building. Their older siblings are the young brothers measuring sticks and their source of early wisdom.

“They tell me to keep the motor high and score when I need to.” Johnathan says of Keelon Jr.’s and Dedric’s counsel.

“They give me advice,” says Chandler. “We work out together. They teach me a lot about the game.”

Plus, they play him one-on-one often, with Chandler usually on the losing end of the equation. “They never take it easy on me,” Chandler smiles, shaking his head. But he recalls besting Dedric in a game to 32. “I only won one game,” he adds. “It was 32-24.” The difference that game was motivation. “My dad said if you beat Dedric I’ll give you some money, so I beat him,” says Chandler.

Chandler use to imagine the possibility of playing with Dedric in college, but Dedric reclassified to senior status this high school season so Chandler will likely miss out on that opportunity. He admits he likes the University of Memphis and would consider playing there, but college is not on his radar now, despite the early interest from many schools. He is living in the moment, as is his younger brother, Johnathan, who enjoys playing along his side.

“It’s fun because he encourages me and helps me win games,” says Johnathan. “And he gets me involved with the team.”

You can follow Jamie Griffin on twitter @flyerpreps.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tag-Team Coaching at East High

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 2:07 PM

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The athletic department at Lane College had an idea. They knew East High School, coached by Lane alum and former basketball player Desmond Merriweather, would be in Jackson, Tennessee, on December 19 to face a local high school, Liberty Tech Magnet. It would be the perfect time to honor Merriweather for his contributions while at the college. They wanted to surprise him with a special ceremony during the game.

The Lane basketball team showed up to meet Merriweather, the man they had heard so much about, as did the college’s president, Logan Hampton. But Merriweather wasn't there. His absence was an excused one, however, as the East coach continues his five-year battle with colon cancer. His son, East point guard, Nick Merriweather, accepted a retired jersey, a basketball signed by the team, and framed stats on behalf of his father.

"It really brought tears to my eyes," said Merriweather. "My son got the opportunity to see the things that I did playing basketball." 

Like several of his East Mustangs teammates, Nick was coached by Merriweather at Lester Middle School. It was at Lester that Merriweather found out he had cancer. When he learned he would be spending a lot of time receiving treatment for the disease, he essentially surrendered control of the Lions to childhood friend and former NBA star, Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway.

The East players understand they may be without Merriweather at times, but unlike middle school, Hardaway is not there to fill the void. Hardaway does offer scouting reports to the East coaching staff, but Merriweather's primary assistant now is Robert Jackson.

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Jackson prepped at East, graduating in 2004. Merriweather's brother Marty was Jackson’s middle school coach. When Merriweather landed the coaching job at East, he called on Jackson, who was teaching alegbra at the school. Jackson initially assumed he would be just checking on the players and making sure they were attending classes. But soon he was asked to serve as Merriweather's top assistant — and head coach by default when Merriweather's health demanded it.

"It's been an adjustment," says Jackson. "I've been operating in a different role for them. My biggest challenge is getting them to respond to me the way they respond to Coach Dez."

Earlier in the season, with Merriweather's status uncertain, Jackson was at the helm for East's game at Houston High. He was disappointed with the way East was playing."We had a 6-point lead," Jackson says. "But we were playing really sluggish."    

Then Merriweather appeared early in the second quarter and resumed his coaching duties. "You could tell they were playing for him," says Jackson. "That six-point-lead ballooned to 18 points in no time." East won by 20.  

Jackson knows he's slowly getting through to them, but understands it will take time. And there's never been any conflict between Merriweather and Jackson; when Merriweather is available, he's the coach. "He's a legend in Binghampton," Jackson says. "He is Binghampton." 

Two days after missing the ceremony in his honor in Jackson, Merriweather's family held an early Christmas dinner to honor him at an uncle's home in Midtown. A banner in the living room is filled with well wishes from family, friends, and his East High family. Merriweather is late, but finally arrives around 4 o'clock, weakened by his latest chemo treatment. He's assisted out of the passenger seat and into his wheelchair. He doesn't have the strength to roll it himself, and has to be pushed. Jackson makes his presence known to his mentor and talks with him briefly. Then leaves, taking what's left of the sun with him. It's as if the moment represents their coaching relationship. Jackson is there, ready when needed, yet it’s Merriweather who is the center of attention.

A few years ago, after undergoing a treatment, Merriweather left his hospital to visit another one. He was there to lift the spirits of his former East High School coach, Reginald Mosby, who is also battling cancer.

“He had just come out of the hospital,” Mosby recalls. “He was kind of half dragging when he came in, walking real slow. Of all of my people, of all my guys, he was the last one I expected to see. And I said 'God is good.'”

“Everything I do when it comes to basketball is in honor of Coach Mosby,” Merriweather says. Which is why he decided to honor Mosby over the summer at Binghampton’s version of city hall — Lester Community Center. Several former East players and coaches came out to help.

Merriweather had planned to make Mosby the honorary coach of the team during East’s November 22nd, game against Memphis Academy of Health Sciences. But Mosby was under the weather and couldn't make it. Still, for Merriweather, being in a wheel chair is just a temporary state that Mosby and basketball helped prepare him to deal with. “You go through things every day,” says Merriweather. “You have to take it for what it’s worth. You have different injuries playing basketball. Joints knocked out of place. I had a great coach in Coach Mosby, who prepared me for this situation.”

You can follow Jamie Griffin on twitter @flyerpreps.

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Friday, January 2, 2015

The Lytles: Cool, Calm, and Collected

Posted By on Fri, Jan 2, 2015 at 11:23 AM

Emily and Marcus Lytle
  • Emily and Marcus Lytle

Perhaps you've seen the commercial: Two young friends pull off the side of the highway to enjoy a meal, not realizing they are surrounded by buffalos. One of the animals waltzes up to the vehicle and sends his horns through the driver’s side window to get their attention. In a panic, one of the friends sings the State Farm Insurance jingle, and like a good neighbor their insurance agent shows up to save the day.

The commercial would not have been as effective if the insurance company had cast siblings Marcus and Emily Lytle in the lead roles. It would have lacked the frantic energy needed to convince viewers. Why? “They are just so laid back,” says Quinton Lytle, the father of the two Evangelical Christian School basketball players.

As an example, Quinton tells about when he was driving Marcus and Emily home after practice and a doe ran onto the road and hit the driver's side of the vehicle. “It caught me off guard,” says Quinton “but Marcus didn’t say a word. Probably didn’t lift his head from his phone. Finally, he asked me why I yelled like that.”

Quinton Lytle
  • Quinton Lytle

Emily is also a cool customer. “Me and Marcus are kind of laid back,” she says. “We’re never super hyper.”

“Most of our kids take after me,” says Quinton. “My wife is the sweetest person, but she has a quicker temper than I do. During games, my wife will scream out at the (referee) long before I do. But I’m stubborn and they get that from me.”

Quinton, a former professional basketball player, did not want them to pick up the sport. “I decided that I would not introduce any of my kids to the game,” he says. “I was fearful they would grow to hate me for pushing them too hard.” His children loved basketball anyway. In fact, Quinton and his wife Carla have eight children, and they all have an appreciation for the game. Quinton has coached four of them, including Emily. He is currently the ECS assistant coach for the girls’ varsity team.

While Quinton is on the bench, Marcus is in the stands cheering for Emily. “It’s just great to get to watch your sister play,” says Marcus. And when Marcus is playing, Emily reciprocates. “I just love to watch him play,” she says. “I can learn a lot from him.”

Marcus and Emily are a year apart. He’s a senior and she’s a junior. Unlike a lot of siblings, they actually like one another. “My children have never had a fight with each other,” Quinton says. “It’s hard to remember them even raising their voice to one another.”

Marcus believes the fact they were home schooled for the majority of their educational process played a large role in their tight bond.

“(Traditional) school, you come to school and you kind of get separated,” Marcus explains. “ You have groups. But home-schooling, you are on the same kind of schedule, you go to the same gym, work out for three hours, come home, and that’s really a big part of the strengthening of the relationship.”

The decision to enter the private school ranks after years of home schooling was mainly due to a formula that had worked in the past. Nicole, big sister to Marcus and Emily, also attended ECS in high school. “She went on to (Middle Tennessee State University),” says Marcus. “And college was a lot easier (academic wise) for her after being here.”

The home school to private school transition was an adjustment period for Marcus and Emily. “I’ve gotten used to it now, but the biggest difference is being at a school desk for seven hours,” explains Marcus. “I was used to just waking up whenever I wanted to wake up, do my school, go to the gym, comeback, do my school. It definitely changes how many hours you can put in at the gym unless you are going to stay up late.”

Basketball, however, has offered few bumps on the road. Marcus and Emily lead their respective teams in scoring. But while their circumstances and personalities are similar, their style of play is very different.

“She can shoot better than I can,” says Marcus. “She’s a real good shooter.”

“I’m not as strong in the paint”,” claims Emily. “I lean more toward play on the outside. He plays inside, plays point, plays the guard. My brother is a better all-around player.”

Yet it’s the 6-foot-tall Emily who is getting more attention from college coaches. “Belmont, MTSU, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss,” she names off a few interested programs (coaches like tall guards). Because she’s an uncommitted junior, the number of pursuers will likely continue to grow.

Marcus, an undecided 6' 3” senior, is also getting offers, but from division II programs. He’s hoping a legitimate division I offer will come his way.

“Marcus just decided last year he wanted to play basketball in college,” says his dad. “His toughest hurdle to getting exposure is his unselfish play. He’s such a good teammate. But sometimes those college coaches want to see a person who can score a bunch of points. And if (Marcus) decided to do that, he could.”

The high school season is still young. There’s still time for a division I program to come calling. But if one doesn’t, Marcus says he won’t panic. Nor will he sing the State Farm jingle.

You can follow Jamie Griffin on twitter @flyerpreps

Monday, December 29, 2014

Time For a Shot Clock in Tennessee Preps Basketball?

Posted By on Mon, Dec 29, 2014 at 9:04 AM

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Tiffany McCollins yells out to no one in particular. She’s thinking back on the 2002 regional playoff game between her White Station Spartans and the East Mustangs. McCollins was the Spartans’ starting point guard. White Station had lost to East just two weeks earlier in the 3A city championship game, so they decided to try a different defensive strategy against them in the regional matchup.

The Spartans started the game in a 2-3 zone, but it was not effective as East ran up a double-digit lead. So White Station’s coach Eric Sullivan made an adjustment. He had his team play man-to-man. But he wanted them to give the quick East guards space and dare them to shoot the ball from the outside.

The Spartans were able to get a few steals and keep people out of the lane and suddenly they were within 5 points with plenty of time to play in the second quarter.

So it was the Mustangs turn to make an adjustment. They decided to force the Spartans players to come out and guard their perimeter players closer by just holding the ball. Sullivan would not let his team take the bait. So the clock ran down and suddenly it was halftime.

The third quarter was a repeat of the latter part of the second, and the clock ticked away as East’s point guard Rudy Sims held on to the ball, occasionally passing it to teammate Whitney Woodard, only to get it back seconds later. In high school basketball in Tennessee, if a player is being guarded, he or she has 5 seconds to hold the ball, another 5 seconds to dribble it, and yet another 5 seconds to get rid of it.  

If he or she is being guarded, a player can hold the ball for eternity.

In the third quarter, the teams were like the Zax characters in Dr. Seuss’ book, neither would budge in the fastest 8 minutes played in a high school game. But the standstill was working to East’s advantage, they had the lead. With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, White Station finally came out of their defensive stance and approached East’s ball handler. They were able to get East to put up a shot, but weren’t able to complete the comeback. The Spartans ran out of time — and season.

“They held the ball for two-and-a-half quarters,” says McCollins. “We set back and didn’t play defense. If I could do it all over that would be the one time I wouldn’t have listened to my coach.”

McCollins now coaches the 7th and 8th grade girls’ team at St. Mary’s. Several coaches have felt McCollins’ pain from that game in 2002. It is still a common practice in Tennessee for teams to hold on to the ball when trying to maintain a lead. And if McCollins had her way it would be a common practice no more. She’s in favor of the governing body of high school sports, Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA), implementing a shot clock. She has plenty of support.

Houston Mustangs’ athletics director and girls basketball coach Chad Becker agrees with McCollins. “I’m 100 percent in favor of it,” he says. “It would make the game better.”

Harding Academy’s boys basketball coach Kevin Starks acknowledges the positives and the challenges of installing a shot clock. “It would make coaching and playing the game more challenging,” he says. “For me, I’m a faster paced coach. But I would also want to be able to protect the lead (by holding the ball) if I had to. It would certainly change things.”

McCollins adds, “It would speed the game up and not all teams go fast.”

Becker understands the concerns, but does not believe they outweigh the benefits. “Let’s say you have a 35-second shot clock; 60 (possessions) a game is about the average (per game) now, with a shot clock you’re talking about 80 possessions a game. (Currently) if you have a dominant ball handler you can shorten the game. And if (the player) is a good free throw shooter you can really manipulate the game.”

Becker also notes the shot clock would prepare those moving on to playing on the next level. “After high school, wherever you play; college, pros, there’s a shot clock,” says Becker. “It makes (players) have to increase their skill level.”

According to an informal survey conducted by Memphis Flyer Preps, 86 percent of Memphis area high school coaches believe it’s time to start using shot clocks. But is there a realistic chance that it will happen anytime soon? That is unclear. According to TSSAA Assistant Executive Director Matthew Gillespie two crucial steps must be taken before a change will occur.

The first step is a proposal for change, which has yet to happen in Tennessee. “We’ve heard general comments about it from time to time but there has not been a (formal) proposal,” says Gillespie.

If members of the TSSAA vote in favor of the change, the TSSAA would then send the suggestion to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) for consideration. NFHS, which TSSAA is a member, writes the rules and guidelines for most high school sports in the United States.

Currently, NFHS has given a few states the green light to experiment with the use of the shot clock, but the demand for change isn’t high. “There are more states that don’t want (a shot clock) than do at this point,” says Gillespie.

Part of the issue may be the fear of change, but also the price of change. “You’d have to be willing to have a visible shot clock in place, installation of it, someone to operate it every game,” Gillespie says. “But it’s feasible.”

Becker agrees. “People say it’s not cost effective, but you have a play clock operator in (high school) football. It reminds me of the 80s when people were hesitant to (implement) the 3-point line.”

For now Starks remains noncommittal. “If I had to vote (to add a shot clock), it would be hard,” he says. “I’d like to experiment with it. It would be hard for me to vote without experiencing it.”

As for McCollins, things that go around come around. Last season her St. Mary’s Turkeys’ team played Briarcrest in a Shelby County championship game. St. Mary’s had a double digit lead in the final quarter, but Briarcrest came storming back. It was the perfect opportunity for McCollins to ask her team to implore the stall ball tactic.

She decided against it. “It would have been tougher on my team to play keep away,” she says. “It would have made them panic and commit unforced turnovers.”

Instead, the eventual champions stuck to the game plan.

Monday, December 8, 2014

One Win Short: Trezevant Football Coach Teli White

Posted By on Mon, Dec 8, 2014 at 12:30 PM

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Trezevant was the only Memphis/Shelby-Metro high school team to make it to a state championship game this football season. Unfortunately they were not able to bring home the gold ball, losing the 4A title game to Fulton (Knoxville), 29-20, on Saturday.

Still, this year’s championship game experience was much more positive than in 2010, when the Bears lost in the title game to Greeneville. Repeated unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and personal fouls by his players throughout that championship game resulted in Trezevant being banned from the post-season the following year, and the Trezevant Athletic Department was placed on probation for two-years.

The topic still bothers Trezevant head coach Teli White, who just completed his eighth season with the Bears. White spoke about the 2010 incident, this year’s team, and the future of Trezevant football.

Memphis Flyer Preps: Discuss Saturday’s game. How was your team’s effort?

Teli White: Loved the effort from the kids. Great behavior. They played good football. We just turned the ball over too many times. They say no moral victories but I’m proud of that group of kids. They worked hard for their pay check which was the gold ball. But we weren’t able to get it for them in the end.

What was the difference in the game?

Turnovers. We had 10 fumbles and (Fulton) recovered five. They were up 22-0 before we could even get started. You can’t turn the ball over that many times against a good team. Actually you can’t turn the ball over that many times against a bad team and expect to win. But we still fought hard and were in the game.

What did you learn from the 2010 incident?

I’m not going to try to save every kid. You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. I was trying to get (members of the 2010 team) to use football as a way out and maybe get them a scholarship. But you can’t help everyone. And there was a group of juniors who didn’t want to be helped. I’m no longer doing intervention. But it was the best thing that ever happened to me and this program.

Why is that?

Because I was able to get those kids off the team and bring in the freshman class that played Saturday in the championship game. I was able to get them from day one. Have them understand they were going to do what I asked. They understood there would be no talking back, missing class, cutting school, being late for practice.

And their parents understood too. I tell parents something now and they support me. There’s no question. Before, parents would act as if I was lying about what I was telling them about their kids. And I’m not trying to put it all on the parents, but I’m only with the kids for a short period of time. Their parents have been with them since the day they were born. Several of those kids (from the 2010 team) are still the same way now. They can’t come up to the school. Not while I’m there.

But the guys that came in after that went 5 and 5 in their freshman year. Then 10-3. Then the state semi-finals. All the way up to the title game in their senior season.

A lot of your key players this year were seniors. And you are moving to from Class 4A to 2A. Are you anticipating a tough transition?

The most challenging part will be filling the shoes of the kids that we have leaving. I will probably have only one senior on next year’s team.

Who will the team miss most?

You’ve got a pen and pad? This could take a while. There’s Tony Grandberry, Terry Albert, Jamal Jones, George Monson, Tito Hunter, Gabriel Scott, Vonterio Johnson, Nicholas Clay, Torrey Maybone, Malik Hurt. So many. These guys have been with me from jump street. Like anything else, we’ve had our ups and downs. But out of 15 games this year, they lost by a total of 10 points.

Your defense is nasty, statistically the best in the area. What’s the key?

I’m really a defensive minded coach. I played linebacker at Overton. And my guy, my defensive coordinator (Jerrell Starnes) and I are on the same page.

When you think of elite teams in the area, consistent ones, should people consider Trezevant among them?

I don’t feel like we are elite because we haven’t brought home a gold ball. Some people will say that we are. They say Trezevant is rich with football tradition. I say we have a good history of talented football players, but how can you say rich in tradition when we hadn’t (prior to 2010) been to the semi-finals since the 1980s.

With so much success at Trezevant, you’re probably a hot commodity now. Do you see yourself leaving or staying with the Bears for the foreseeable future?

Nobody considers me a hot commodity, which is what I don’t understand. When other jobs have come up — Ridgeway, Southwind, Central — I don’t get looked at, for some reason. But I’m fine where I am, as long as the principal will have me.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Son of Mingo

Posted By on Mon, Dec 1, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Jordan Johnson
  • Jordan Johnson

Jordan Johnson waits to hear his name called by Overton coach John Woodridge. He watches most of Overton’s game with Trezevant from what has been unfamiliar territory during his young career — the bench.

Johnson checks in during a short stretch in the third quarter. The freshman point guard plays his role, does just what he’s asked to do, which is mainly give the Wolverines’ starting point guard a breather. In his four minutes, he doesn’t commit a turnover. He plays good defense. He gets a steal. He also gets an assist. One thing he doesn’t do is shoot the ball — a big change from what he been accustomed to.

Last year, at Sherwood Middle School, Johnson was a gunner, his light kryptonite green. His aerodynamic fro-hawk fade hair cut fits the look of his shot, high and dynamic. He was also a starter while playing AAU ball with Team Penny 14 & Under over the summer. Without question, he’s a shooter, a good shooter. But high school ball is different. “It’s been real hard,” Johnson says. “In middle school you can get away with a lot of stuff. In high school, you have to be more physical and stronger and mentally stronger.”

Although Johnson has struggled at times, he is making strides, thanks to three men in his life: Chris Adams, Jerry Hurt, and Mingo Johnson.

CHRIS ADAMS

chris_adams.jpg

Saturday afternoon, while Overton is playing Trezevant in a jamboree game at East High School, Chris Adams, who coached some of the players on the court during their middle school careers, including Johnson, is there as a spectator and a cheerleader. He likes to keep up with his former players.

Sunday afternoon, Adams watches the Memphis Tigers women’s team play Minnesota at Elma Roane Fieldhouse. He’s there to witness the progress of Memphis players Mooriah Rowser, Damonique Miller, and Courtney Powell, players he has trained during the off-season.

After the Memphis game, Adams heads to Sherwood Middle School, where he coaches the boys’ varsity squad. On Sundays, just before the light outside fades, he opens the gym to work out some of his former players. Johnson is one of them.

“I’m trying to make sure they have a good work ethic,” says Adams, who prepped at Melrose and played college ball at Southwest Tennesssee Community College and Fisk University. “Make sure they always go hard.”

To start the workout, Adams makes the players go through dribbling drills. He puts a chair to the right of the free throw line. Players have to dribble up to the chair, change direction, and then either go to the bucket or pull up for a jumper. He increases the degree of difficulty by adding another chair, and having the players dribble between their legs to pass one, then at “game speed,” behind-the-back, then back-to-front dribble between the legs to get past the other.

Adams says he wants Johnson to continue to perfect his jump shot and mid-range game. They've had the same Sunday routine for the past three years.

“Coach Chris, he knows what he’s talking about,” says Johnson. “And I know he can help me improve my game, to get me to the next level.”

JERRY HURT

Overton High senior, Jerry Hurt
  • Overton High senior, Jerry Hurt

Joining Johnson in the gym Sunday is Jerry Hurt, Overton’s starting point guard. Hurt, a senior, has taken Johnson under his wing. Adams coached Hurt at American Way Middle. Hurt, like Adams, is interested in Johnson’s growth. He wants to end his high school career with a bang, a trip to the Murfreesboro to play for a state championship. He believes Johnson could help the cause.

“He’s very good,” Hurt says. “He’s just got to learn to get focused before games. He likes to play around, because he’s a freshman. He likes to joke around when everybody is trying to take it seriously.”

Johnson also has to become a better distributor. The 5'8” Johnson has always been called upon to score first; now he’s being asked to get his teammates more involved, which Hurt and Adams both believe he can do with Hurt as a mentor.

MINGO JOHNSON

mingo.jpg

It's easy to understand why Jordan Johnson has developed such a good outside shot. His father is former University of Memphis Tiger guard, Mingo Johnson, who hit 153 three-pointers at Memphis, despite playing only two seasons at the school in the mid-1990s.

Mingo is his son’s hero. He not only fostered his son’s interest in basketball, he served as an assistant coach on Jordan’s AAU team. Mingo knows his son has a long journey, but says Jordan is off to a good start. “I was telling someone the other day that (Jordan) was much better than I was at the same age,” says Mingo. That is where father and son disagree.

Jordan, who has studied his father’s college and high school game tapes for years, says his dad’s scouting report is a bit inaccurate. “I think I’m close to where he was (as a freshman) but I’ve still got a lot more to get to,” says Jordan.

It is a tough comparison, because Mingo was a point guard in high school who made the transition to shooting guard in college. His son is a shooter hoping to transform to a point guard.

“Jordan’s game is different,” says Adams. “Mingo was bigger. Jordan has a point guard’s body.”

Mingo is also a better outside shooter — still. Jordan and Mingo play one-on-one and unfortunately for Jordan, the results are always the same. “He still beats me,” Jordan admits. And Papa Johnson does not use his size to do it (Mingo is 6-2). “Just his shot and his handles” Jordan adds.

Still, Jordan has made progress. He logged about 15 minutes in Overton’s game against Oakhaven. Adams was there and he was pleased with what he saw and offered encouraging words for his former student-athlete. “I told him to be patient,” he said. “Your time will come.” And when it does, hopefully he’ll be ready to effectively run an offense — and maybe even beat his old man. n

You can follow Jamie Griffin on twitter @flyerpreps.

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