The coach reminds them the walls of their home court – built 80 years ago on 408 West Mill Street – remain empty.
“We had T-shirts printed last year that said: ‘Tradition Begins Now’,’’ said Mason, who is in his fifth season at the South Tippah County school. “They’ve adopted it.”
The Cougars came close to earning a banner last season, but lost to Biggersville – an eventual Class 1A state tournament finalist – in the division tournament title game. Despite the loss, Blue Mountain did advance to the North state tournament for the first time in 32 years.
“We were leading (Biggersville) by 17 at one point,” Mason said. “We were clicking away, then the cookie crumbled. They wore us down with their depth.”
Three starters return from last season’s 15-10 team, including two talented guards – junior Ismael Ruedas and sophomore Jacob Girley. Ruedas is averaging 24 points per game while Girley is scoring 23.
“We’re really strong with our guard play,” Mason said. “When one is hitting, I tell the other one to get out of the way.”
Point guard Dontae Knox makes sure they get the ball. In last week’s win at Jumpertown, Ruedas scored 33 and Girley 32.
“We’re a lot better team this year, a lot stronger,” Ruedas said. “We’re playing team ball this year.”
Girley believes the key to making a postseason run will be improved interior defensive play. The Cougars have some strength inside with 6-foot-3 Taije Berry and Tyler Riddle, 6-foot Trevario McClinton and 6-3 Raeqwan Young.
“We have to continue to play under control and not look past anybody ... just play our basketball,” Girley said.
The Cougars enter tonight’s Division 1-1A home game against Thrasher with a 12-1 overall record and 3-0 league mark. Next Tuesday, division foe Biggersville visits.
“We’re the second smallest school in the state, so putting a competitive team on the court is difficult,” Mason said. “We’ve got a good little bunch. They understand their roles.
“Nobody is going to out-work us.”
The team has dedicated the season to Girley’s mom, who died prior to the start of the school year. The Cougars are also honoring a close friend of Mason’s, former Prentiss County curriculum coordinator Jason McKinney, who died Aug. 22 in an auto accident.