By Brandon Speck
CALHOUN CITY – Calhoun City keeps it in the family.
When the Wildcats went to the state basketball championship in 1998, now head coach Daren Coffey was student teaching there, already doing some coaching, too. On that runner-up team: a Draine and a Gates and a Sykes.
For the third time in six years, Coffey is leading his team back to the tournament, for the first time since 2011 and looking for the school’s first title since 1988.
On this team: a Draine and a Gates and a Sykes. Ladavius Draine is a freshman guard, Chakel Gates a junior guard/forward and Brieton Sykes a sophomore guard.
“We’ve got a lot of family names around here, “Coffey said. “Every once in a while, you’re lucky enough to get kids with basketball backgrounds. Every once in a while you may get two or three. Hopefully it will pay off.”
The next family reunion has a state title trip on the line. Calhoun City (22-11) faces S.V. Marshall (24-5) at 10:30 a.m. Friday inside Jackson’s Mississippi Coliseum in the Class 2A semifinals.
“They’re big, big and athletic, strong on the boards and a couple kids that can shoot, a pretty balanced team,” Coffey said. “We’re just trying to turn our intensity up a little higher. We kind of feed off high-intensity energy. The harder we play, the better we are.”
A pair of seniors help with City’s high energy, Andrikus Ezell and Levarious Varnado. Most of the offense comes from underclassmen, including Draine, Gates, Sykes and junior Austin Burl, a group Coffey gives space to make their own decisions on who shoots when.
The names are familiar all around Calhoun County, and have been for a while. Coffey says the community supported their elders and that hasn’t changed. There will be a Thursday morning pep rally before the team leaves in the evening.
“People in the community really push them to succeed,” he said.