"Any athlete, an athlete with a competitive spirit, wants that challenge," said Ashley, who coached his Ingomar Falcons to an MHSAA Class 1A state championship in basketball last week.
Ashley's 2010 Falcons are ready to step up to the plate against the best this state has to offer on the hardwood in this week's Grand Slam at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
Ingomar (30-6) plays 2A champion West Bolivar (25-8), which knocked off Northeast Mississippi entry Baldwyn in the title game, at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the opening round.
The winner plays 6A champ Starkville (29-2) at 2:30 Friday in the semifinals.
"That would be a challenge, something to remember," Ashley said of his team's possible showdown against the Yellowjackets.
Ingomar's not about to get caught looking past West Bolivar, however. Ashley, who has won a state-record 1,664 games and nine state titles, including a Grand Slam in 1978, will make sure of that.
"I know we're going to practice hard," said 6-foot-7 senior center Zach Carnell, prior to Monday's workout.
"I know Coach Ashley's looked at tape of West Bolivar," added senior guard Clay Kidd. "He knows what he's doing. We'll be prepared."
Winning the state championship was Ingomar's goal, so Ashley considers the Grand Slam a reward for his team.
"We get to play another week, see what we're made of," he said. "I'm telling them to enjoy the fruits of your labor, you're already winners ... that's not going to change. We're still going to put up a sign in the gym for you."
For the players, a win in the opener against West Bolivar would give them their shot at Starkville and its stars - high-flying forward Rashad Perkins and cat-quick point guard Edward Townsel.
"There's a huge difference between 1A and 6A," senior guard Matt Purvis said. "We have 12 guys on our team, that's it. I bet they have tryouts.
"I know this is for fun and the pressure's off, but we still want to go out and see if we can compete with them. We might get beat by 30, we might not."
Ashley has some words of caution for Starkville and 5A champion Jackson Callaway: "They better not let themselves be caught looking ahead to Saturday and looking past the 1A and 2A teams."
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