By Gene Phelps and John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
BY JOHN WILBERT and Gene Phelps
JACKSON – By now, everybody who follows high school basketball in Mississippi should know that Norris Ashley is a great coach. But few people today may know that Ashley was a pretty decent player himself.
“I watched him play independent basketball when I was very small,” said Jacksonville State (Ala.) men’s basketball coach James Green, a former Ingomar player. “He was still doing it pretty good.”
Green described the league Ashley played in as being “a really good one,” similar to a semi-pro league, but “it had a lot of local guys and guys from surrounding areas.”
Green, who played on Ingomar’s 1978 Grand Slam championship team, watched the 62-year-old Ashley coach his Ingomar Falcons against West Bolivar in Thursday’s Grand Slam game.
The second-year Jacksonville State coach and former Ole Miss player stuck around after Thursday’s game to speak with Ashley on the floor of the Mississippi Coliseum. Unfortunately for Green, he didn’t get to attend the Falcons’ state semifinal and championship games at the Coliseum.
“I wanted to make sure that I was here,” Green said. “I didn’t have a chance to make it last time they were here. It worked out for me this time.”
Ashley will “probably” retire
Clay Kidd’s playing days at Ingomar are over. Still, he would like to see his coach, Norris Ashley, remain on the gym floor.
“I hope he doesn’t retire,” said Kidd, whose father, Barry, played for Ashley. “I sure would like for him to coach.”
Ashley, the state’s winningest coach with a 1,664-831 record in 41 seasons, 39 at Ingomar, of coaching boys and girls basketball, says he will “probably” retire in a few weeks.
“I’ll look at it in three or four weeks and see what my family and I want to do,” Ashley, 62, said moments after watching his team drop a 66-39 decision to West Bolivar in the MHSAA Grand Slam. “There’s a pretty good chance of it.”
Ashley’s team finished with a 30-7 record and beat McAdams, 72-60, here last week for his ninth state championship, his fifth in boys. He also had one Grand Slam title in 1978.
“We stunk today, but we’re still state champions,” Ashley said, then smiled. “That’s something they can look to the rest of their lives.”
Not made for TV
The Grand Slam has not been televised since its revival in 2007.
MHSAA Executive Director Dr. Ennis Proctor said on Thursday the Grand Slam will not be televised due to the lack of attendance the event has had.
The state championship games were televised last week by Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
Even with the state championship games for each classification being televised, nearly 41,000 fans paid their way into the Mississippi Coliseum for the semifinals and finals.
After Thursday’s opening day of the Grand Slam, it became readily apparent that pretty much only parents could attend the Grand Slam games due to the schools having their nine-week tests, which are similar to mid-term exams.
Sticking with what works
– West Bolivar boys basketball coach Willie Thomas said his team attempted to switch its basic defense in a practice leading up to Thursday’s game.
Thomas and Co. were trying to come up with something that could contain both Ingomar’s 3-point shooters and stellar post player Zach Carnell.
“We got about an hour into practice and we were like, ‘Man, we’re going back to our same defense that took us here. We have nothing to lose,’ ” said Thomas, whose team won the Class 2A state championship.
So the Eagles went back to their “32” defense, a three-two zone.
“We kind of match up out of it sometimes, and stuff like that,” Thomas said of his team’s basic defense.
The “32” worked against the Class 1A champion Falcons, as West Bolivar held them to only 26 percent shooting from the floor and forced 23 turnovers.
Carnell scored 13 points, but nine of those came from the free-throw line.
“We opened it up a little bit,” Thomas said of his team’s defense during Thursday’s game. “We knew there weren’t guys who could take you off the dribble.”
With the victory over Ingomar, the Eagles get an opportunity to play high-flying Starkville in Friday afternoon’s Grand Slam semifinal.
Thomas said he would have to spend Thursday night figuring out how he wants to handle the Yellowjackets.
“It gives your guys a chance to be tested,” he said about his team playing the Class 6A state champion.