By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
Nanci Gray is still disappointed.
Understandably so with the loss to Meridian Saturday in the Region XXIII finals denying Gray’s Itawamba Lady Indians a chance to play in the junior college national championship tournament still so fresh.
“We possibly did not have our best offensive game, but give Meridian credit,” said Gray, whose Lady Indians finished the season 26-3. “This was part of a long season, and there were things that could not be overcome late in that game.
“But you can get so hung up on the last game, you forget the good things that happened this season.”
The obvious positive for the Lady Indians was winning the MACJC State Championship, the second for Gray as head coach at ICC.
“We had an extremely successful season, and the kids exceeded the expectations people had for them,” Gray said. “This was one of the best groups of kids I’ve ever had here.”
But with the April 8 signing date quickly approaching, Gray has turned her attention to the loss of the core of this season’s success, sophomores LaPrecious Naylon (15.5 points per game), Jameika Hoskins (14.9 ppg), Vechatita Bonner (13.8 ppg), and Shay Bonner.
“Looking at the four sophomores we’re losing, we’re going to have to have at point guard, outside scoring, and inside presence,” Gray said. “That’s looking at the whole gamut.
“That’s going to be lots of contacts, and lots of travel.”
A new chief
Lots is going on with the Itawamba men’s basketball team as well in this off-season.
After 14 seasons and a state championship over that span with the Indians, Marty Cooper announced his retirement from coaching.
In his last season, Cooper guided the Indians into the state tournament, ending the season with a 9-15 mark.
Enter this week the Tupelo Golden Wave’s Grant Pate as the new head coach, fresh off leading his team to the Class 6A state championship game, the first time Tupelo has been in the state tournament since 1999.
“I’ve watched coach Gray and the Lady Indians get that State Championship, and I want to get there right away with the men’s team,” said Pate, who has 17 years of college coaching experience. “Coach Cooper built a solid foundation, and I want to expand that.”
Besides hitting the recruiting trail, Pate will be looking at the potential of current freshmen, including Okolona’s D. J. Gardner (14.3 ppg) and Tupelo’s Deontaye Ewing (13.3 ppg).