By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Normally, a basketball coach would be concerned with his team going a week-and-half without playing a game during the postseason.
But Greg Carter of the Starkville High Yellowjackets welcomes the 10 days his team will have gone without playing.
“We needed to get well. We had a couple of guys who were banged up who needed time to heal,” said the coach of the defending MHSAA Class 6A state champions.
The Yellowjackets last played on Feb. 19, losing 69-54 to Vicksburg in the championship game of the North Tournament.
Tonight, 19-8 Starkville will take on last year’s state runner-up and this year’s favorite to win the state title, Meridian (27-2), at 8 at the Mississippi Coliseum. The Yellowjackets defeated the Wildcats 57-51 in last March’s state title game, but lost 70-59 in November’s regular-season matchup in Starkville.
“They’re a lot better than they were last year,” Carter said about Meridian. “Last year, they were all juniors and it was the first year for all of them to get that far. They’ve made the South state playoffs before, but always got put out.
“They got their whole team back. That extra year (of experience) helped.”
Injuries aside, Carter is fine with having to wait so long to finally play in the state semifinals – just as long as the other three semifinalists have the same amount of days between games
“With the final four format now, it’s different than what it used to be,” said the Yellowjackets coach, alluding to previous seasons when teams had longer breaks between postseason games than others in the same classification due to the state quarterfinals being played in Jackson. “Starting last year with the different format, all of the teams will pretty much have an equal amount of time off between games.”
Unfortunately for Carter and company, this recent 10-day span without playing wasn’t enough time to allow for their junior center, Gavin Ware, to heal. Ware strained some ligaments in his right knee during his team’s 56-39 Division 2-6A Tournament victory over Columbus on Feb. 8, and hasn’t played since.
“He’s not going to play,” Carter said about his 6-foot-8 big man. “Nothing is torn, but he did strain some ligaments.”
After also missing the Division 2-6A tourney title game against Tupelo, Jacolby Mobley is 100 percent now and hasn’t missed any games since. Starkville’s talented junior point guard suffered bruised ribs and a hip pointer in that Feb. 8 game versus Columbus.
Nonetheless, the loss of Ware is huge for the Yellowjackets, because they will be facing an exceptional 6-foot-7 player in Rodney Hood who can play a number of positions.
“He does a little bit of everything and he does it well,” Carter said of the Meridian senior and Mississippi State signee. “He is so skilled and he understands the game so well.
“When you double him, he can throw over the double team. He’s really a tough matchup.
“They play him at power forward, they play him some at center and he even comes out and plays point guard. Because of all of that, it makes him a tough matchup for anybody.”
Hood isn’t the only good player on the Wildcats team. Devin Cherry, a 6-foot-3 senior guard and Cornell signee, is one of Meridian’s sharp shooters.
Still, if the Yellowjackets can limit Hood from getting into a rhythm on the offensive end, then things ought to look good for a return trip to the state finals.
“We won’t be able to guard him with one guy,” Carter said about defending Hood. “We’re going to have to keep changing defenders on him. We’ll have three or four guys who are going to have the challenge of guarding him.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572