We gave out the C Spire Gillom and Howell basketball awards Monday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, which felt more like the Northern Alaska Sports Hall of Fame given the North Pole-ish weather for early March.
Southern Miss guard Jamierra Faulkner, the nation’s leader in assists, won the Gillom. Jarvis Summers of Ole Miss won the Howell.
Any of the three finalists in either category would have been deserving. Indeed, last year’s winners, Martha Alwal of State and Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss, were among the finalists. Neil Watson, who had been the point guard on USM teams that have won 76 games over the past three seasons, and Tia Faleru, who averaged nearly a double-double for Ole Miss rounded out the finalists.
As former NCAA Final Four coach Richard Williams, the keynote speaker, put it: “That’s an amazing collection of talent right there.”
It was, but as Williams also pointed out to the finalists, “Congratulations on the being here, no matter who wins, but please remember this: You are up for an award that is named for two of the most special people in Mississippi sports history – not just basketball history – sports history.
These finalists’ numbers were off the charts: Faulkner not only leads the nation in assists with 8.4 per game but is also fourth in the nation in steals. She plays the game at warmp speed. Alwal recently put up a 25-pount, 23-rebound performance against Ole Miss. Faleru averaged almost a double-double.
Henderson leads the nation in three-point goals, but teammate Summers had to be among the most improved players in the country. He raised his scoring average from 9 to 17 points a game, his field goal percentage from 40 percent to nearly 50 percent and his three point percentage from 34 to 45 percent. What’s more, he also ranked in the top five in the SEC in assists. His numbers, overall, were the best of the three Howell finalists.
Watson led his team in scoring and assists and ranks fourth in the country in free throw shooting, but his intangibles are more impressive.
Said his coach, Donnie Tyndall, “I judge a point guard the way I do a football quarterback, that is, victories. Neil Watson is just a winner.”
Compare all those numbers and accolades to the people whose names are on the trophies. Peggie Gillom-Granderson and Bailey Howell put up numbers that these days seem like something out of science fiction or a comic book.
As a four-year starting forward for the Lady Rebels from 1976-80, Gillom-Granderson scored 2,486 points and grabbed 1,271 rebounds, establishing school records in both categories that still stand today. Gillom-Granderson also holds eight other Lady Rebel game, season and career records.
Howell averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds for his three varsity seasons at State. This was back when State, more often than not, played a slowdown offense. The numbers sound ridiculous. A double-double of 27 and 17 would be an incredible feat for one game, a more miraculous feat for an entire season – but for an entire career? Outrageous.
What you need to know about Gillom-Granderson and Howell is that they remain modest, down-to-earth folks who would never bring up their myriad achievements or those gaudy numbers.
They have represented Mississippi impeccably well as athletes and then as citizens. They make us proud.
You win a trophy with one of their names on it, you’ve done something. And you now have a lot to live up to.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.