By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
If you attend a Booneville High boys basketball game early on this season, you may be left wondering why the Blue Devils are considered to be a title contender.
Sure, the Blue Devils won the MHSAA Class 3A state championship last year, but they won’t look like that caliber of team when they take the floor in November.
So why all the preseason hype?
The Blue Devils have four returning starters and a stellar transfer in Jake Hall. Michael Smith, the 2010-11 Daily Journal Coach of the Year, even has several talented role players back from last season.
The problem for the Blue Devils, however, is that they will be without a dozen players in the early going. Those 12 happen to suit up for the school’s football program, which is slated to play into November.
“We are going to go ahead and play with what we have even if the football team is still playing,” Smith said. “It will be a good opportunity for those other kids to get some experience.”
The Blue Devils couldn’t even scrimmage five-on-five during the first week of practice due to the limited number of bodies available.
But come December and January, expect the Blue Devils to be better than ever. Look for Keldrick Lesley, last year’s leading scorer, to prove to be the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star player he is and 6-foot-6 Kenny Paul Geno to provide consistent scoring.
Darius Leach returns to the point and Jordan Miller is a solid forward who can score.
Another player to watch in the frontcourt is Shaq Prather, and Smith expects sophomore forward Jack Nichols – who sparked his team in March’s state title game – to be a big factor.
For now, Smith is more than OK with having a dozen players unavailable due to their football commitments.
“Playing football helps them with their confidence and being physical,” he said.
* In 6A, Tupelo comes off a four-loss season in which it finished a victory shy of advancing to the state semifinals. Look for MAC All-Star selection Dajon Reno to lead the Wave.
* Starkville should be a title contender – this time in 5A. The Yellowjackets – the 2009-10 MHSAA 6A state champions and last year’s 6A runner-up – have Mississippi State commitment Gavin Ware returning, as well as Jacolby Mobley.
* There won’t be a more exciting area player to watch in 4A than New Albany big man Moses Kingsley.
* Even though Reggie Patterson (ACL) is questionable to play this season and Ian Burress (Achilles tendon) is out until midseason, Baldwyn still has Dee Gates and Tevin Lindsey. However, the Bearcats will likely have to battle Bruce and Calhoun City to make it to the 2A state semifinals.
* Moving down to 1A this season, Ashland should wreak havoc with sharpshooter Darius Dukes.