By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
There were periods of times in the previous 50 years that Tupelo Golden Wave basketball and State Tournament went hand-in-hand.
Not so much in the last decade-plus.
Grant Pate is cognizant of the tradition, and the void, and is looking for Tupelo to regain some of its roundball glory today as the Wave face Biloxi at 2:30 p.m. in semifinal action of the Class 6A State Tournament in Jackson.
(A live video stream of the game is available on the web at www.misshsaa.tv, although the feed has had some technical problems this week. There is no live radio broadcast.)
“I’ve thought about the history of Tupelo basketball through the four years I’ve coached, and we’re trying to get back to that,” Pate said. “This past weekend, there certainly was a feeling of excitement about Tupelo basketball after our games in the north half.
“It’s been a year of hard work, but we’re moving past that point for our game in Jackson.”
From winning games in the 6A North Tournament against Clinton and Jim Hill, Pate is moving the Wave (25-8) on to Biloxi (21-6), the No. 2 seed from the South.
“Biloxi has a lot of tradition, and their strength is in their front line,” Pate said. “But we’re not going to change a whole lot.
“We’re going to continue to create tempo with our press, create transition points. Our defense is the key – can we defend their guards and limit their front line from getting point-blank looks.”
Tupelo has been relying a lot on its seniors like Rashon Coleman, Dajon Reno, Josh Hamilton, Chaz Jones, and Jordan Sadler in its current stretch run. Coleman leads the Wave in scoring at 15.4 points per game, with Reno at 12.6 ppg.
“I feel like we’ve been winning because of our defense,” Coleman said. “Defense wins ball games, and offense will come.”
Links with Biloxi
Ironically, Biloxi is tied to some of the Tupelo boys’ last appearances in the State Tournament.
In the last 50 years, Tupelo’s most notable mark on the state tournament is also one of this state’s more notable footnotes. Between 1965-68, the Wave won three AA titles, and three Grand Slam Championships.
Then from 1979-99, Tupelo qualified for the State Tournament eight times, four under Randy Hodges, and four under Lee Stratton.
Tupelo played in title games four times over that span, two under Hodges, and two under Stratton in 1989-90.
Condensing it further, within a 12-year span, Tupelo was in the State Tournament seven times.
In that pair of championship games from 1989-90, Tupelo lost both to Biloxi. Also, Tupelo’s last State Tournament appearance was in 1999, a quarterfinal loss to Biloxi after going 26-0 during the regular season.