By Brandon Speck/NEMS Daily Journal
Player of the year:
Keldrick Lesley, Booneville
Keldrick Lesley, the Daily Journal’s 2011-12 Player of the Year, had to change his ways.
Booneville’s 6-foot-2 senior guard had to put scoring in the back of his mind and focus more on not having the basketball.
Lesley led the state runner-up Blue Devils with 14.9 points per game and was second in rebounding, assists and steals. But his biggest contribution isn’t found in the stat book.
“This year he guarded the best player on the other team every night, where last year he didn’t always have to,” Booneville coach Michael Smith said. “He relished that role.”
Lesley’s scoring dipped a couple of points but Smith said it had to in order for the Blue Devils to have a chance at back-to-back Class 3A championships.
He held Kemper County’s heralded second-leading scorer Nick Giles to 11 points on 2 of 6 shooting in the championship game.
“I think I did give up a lot of shots,” Lesley said. “But I don’t think that was a bad thing.”
Smith won’t have to drive far to see Lesley play next season, just down the street at Northeast Mississippi Community College.
But he’s taking his 165 rebounds, 115 assists and 56 steals with him. The fan favorite had a giant cutout of his face floating around the Screamin’ Demons student section during state tournament play in Jackson.
“I’m going to really miss it. Nothing like playing in front of my hometown,” Lesley said. “In Jackson, that really amazed me. You look up and see nothing but blue. I’m going to really miss the crowd.”
Smith is going to miss Lesley too, a player he says is like a son to his family. So will the three returning starters he willingly shared the spotlight with.
Opponents won’t. One opposing coach said he’d hate to see Lesley with the ball late in a tie game.
“We trust all of them. We’ve got several that in a tight game, it doesn’t matter which one has the ball. He’s one of them. No moment is too big for him. It’s sad. I’m kind of getting past it but it was hard for a while,” Smith said.