By Todd Vinyard
How sweet it was.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs basketball team went further in the NCAA tournament then any MSU team in modern history – the “Sweet 16.”
MSU’s basketball season was the runaway winner for Northeast Mississippi sports story of the year in 1995. Eleven stories were selected by the Daily Journal sports staff with two tying for 10th place.
Fifth-seeded Mississippi State (22-8) began their journey into college basketball’s elite group by beating Santa Clara and fourth-seeded Utah to advance to the West Regional in Oakland, Calf. The eventual national champions, UCLA, ended Mississippi State’s spectacular run.
State earned its highest in-season rankings since 1963, listed 18th by The Associated Press and 19th by CNN/USA Today going into the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs defeated five ranked teams, including a first-ever win at Rupp Arena over Kentucky.
Three senior starters point guard T.J. Honore, forward Brian Price, and forward Marcus Grant provided leadership for head coach Richard Williams.
Erick Dampier was voted first-team all-SEC after leading the league in shooting. Darryl Wilson was one of the top 3-point shooters in the conference.
“I’m already looking forward to next year,” Wilson told the Daily Journal after MSU’s successful year concluded.
Dampier’s and Wilson’s return along with Junior College Player of the Year Dontae’ Jones created high expectations in Bulldog Country. Mississippi State was ranked No. 8 by the Associated Press and No. 4 in Sports Illustrated’s basketball preview issue.
So far 17th-ranked State is 8-1.
The other sports stories of the year are:
2. Tuberville guides Rebels to winning season: Things looked anything but bright when Tommy Tuberville, 40, became the 32nd Ole Miss head football coach on Dec. 2, 1994.
The former Texas A&M and Miami assistant took over a program which was on NCAA probation and coming off a 4-7 season. But the first-year head coach rallied his team to the school’s first winning record since 1992 (6-5).
An 18-10 win over Georgia at home, and a 13-10 come from behind victory over Mississippi State highlighted the Rebels’ season.
Early verbal commitments point towards possible victories in a crucial area of Tuberville’s rebuilding process – recruiting.
3. Disappointing year for MSU football: After going to three bowls in four years Mississippi State head football coach Jackie Sherrill suffered one of the worst seasons of his career by finishing 3-8.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Bill Clay resigned following a year in which MSU lost seven of its last eight games.
Lynn Amedee has been hired as offensive coordinator, while the defensive coordinator slot is still open.
Off the field, MSU admitted to 8 of 20 violations alleged by the NCAA and faces an infractions hearing in 1996.
4. Amory reigns again: Bobby Hall’s Amory Panthers rolled to their second consecutive Class 3A football title in December.
Daily Journal All-Area Player of the Year Joe Gunn, who ran 21 times for 281 yards, broke a state single-season rushing record in Amory’s 42-12 championship game win over Raleigh.
Amory finished 15-0 and ranked 16th in the country by USA TODAY.
5. Dontae’ Jones: From his on the court talents to eligibility questions, Northeast Tiger and now Mississippi State basketball player Dontae’ Jones was a name on the lips of several area sports fans.
At Northeast, Jones was part of a Tiger team which won the North Division and Region 23 Tournament championship, before finishing seventh in the National Tournament.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger recently reported the NCAA found no violations concerning Jones’ academic eligibility, which some questioned after he passed several hours of summer school.
The 6-foot-7 forward is starting and averaging 12.9 points per game for the Bulldogs.
6. Croatians are coming: World class Croatian athletes like Tony Kukoc of the Chicago Bulls and tennis player Goran Ivanisevic will be part of a 200 member delegation training in Tupelo for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
The July 6-15 visit was announced in February.
7. Respected Northeast football coach dies: The loss of Northeast football coach Hubert Tucker shocked and saddened many.
Tucker, who coached 24 years in high schools before coming to Northeast in 1990, was killed Feb. 20 in a two-vehicle accident. Gunter Brewer was named to replace him April 11.
8. Malcom Kuykendall leaves on top: After 1,017 wins – 406 at Belmont – Malcolm Kuykendall resigned to become assistant principal at the school. His Lady Cardinals gave him a nice parting gift – a Class 2A state girls basketball championship.
9. Bill Ward retires: Northeast Community College Athletic Director Bill Ward announced in November he was retiring after 28 years of service effective June 30th.
Both Northeast assistant football coaches were reassigned.
David Carnell was named athletic director, and Billy Southward will teach physical education along with having administrative responsibilities in the Division of Student Affairs.
10. Ole Miss baseball – Don Kessinger’s Rebel baseball team won the most games in school history (40), and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1977.
Ole Miss was led by the hitting of David Dellucci, who set a school record with 63 RBIs, and All-American pitcher Jamie Price (11-6).
10. Tupelo Coliseum hosts prep hoops: Tupelo and Shannon played the first high school game in the coliseum. Shannon won the Dec. 2 contest 60-59.
The game drew 2,357 fans with the possibility of more high school action in the future.