February 26, 2014 12:07:45 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
WEST POINT -- The chant -- "We want Callaway" -- started with 59 seconds remaining.
The fans couldn't help it. After all, the West Point High School boys basketball team raced out to a 27-8 lead after one quarter en route to a 77-51 victory against Lake Cormorant in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North State playoffs. For much of the next two quarters, the gymnasium remained calm -- save for the rim-shaking dunks by Demarius Calvert -- as the fans waited for the right time to turn their attention toward the next opponent.
Tre Williams heard it and couldn't help smiling when asked about it after the game.
"I heard it," Williams said. "I want them, too. I have been wanting Callaway since last year and ever since I aw them win their first championship. I am going to bring my 'A' game. I am going to be in the gym all week."
West Point coach Brad Cox heard the chant, too. He admitted his players might have turned their thoughts ahead to Callaway, the two-time defending Class 5A champions, a little early. As a result, the Green Wave's comfortable lead slipped to as little as 13 points in the third quarter. Still, West Point (26-5) never was in serious jeopardy thanks to big edges in size and athleticism.
"I felt like we got a little showy there for a little bit, trying to put on a show for the crowd instead of going ahead and putting the game away," Cox said, "but we're going to take the win and get ready for Friday."
Williams and Calvert paced a balanced scoring attack with 18 points, while Juan Davis added 16 points, A.J. Jones had nine and Anthony Craddeth added eight. All five players are members of an eight-man senior class that has helped West Point boys basketball make a name for itself throughout the state. While football is the first thing high school sports fans typically think of when West Point is mentioned, Williams said he and his teammates are proud they have helped change that in the past few years. He knows West Point will attract even more attention if it can knock off a program that has won five titles, including the Grand Slam championship, since the 2008-09 season.
West Point will play host to Callaway at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the second game of a doubleheader. Center Hill will take on Vicksburg at 6 p.m. Center Hill eliminated Class 5A, region 1, District 1 runner-up Oxford on Tuesday.
Cox liked how his team came out with a purpose in the first quarter. Much like the team played Friday in a victory against Oxford in the region title game, the Green Wave played freely and easily. They were in rhythm in their half-court offense and were able to use their height on the wings to shoot over Lake Cormorant. On defense, their length forced turnovers and helped Jones get into a transition game where he is so successful finding his teammates. The point guard had seven assists in the first quarter to help break the game open.
But Cox knows things will be much tougher Friday. Still, he knows an experienced group of players that has grown up together is eager for a state-level test to gauge itself. West Point lost twice to Class 6A Starkville and Oxford in the regular season as well as to Provine.
"This group loves to try to be the first team to do this, the first team to do that," Cox said. "We don't know how long it has been, but it has been a long time since we won a regular-season district. They want to do something that has never been done. They want to win that state championship. That is something we haven't done in West Point basketball. I know they are going to be ready."
Cox has that confidence in part because of hard-working players like Williams. The 6-foot-2, 165-pound guard has attracted interest from a variety of junior colleges in the state, including Meridian C.C., East Central C.C., Copiah-Lincoln C.C., Northwest Mississippi C.C., and Itawamba C.C. Cox said Williams has matured into a team leader on both ends of the floor thanks to a tireless work ethic that has him in the gym early in the morning and late in the evening honing his skills.
"We had a shootaround at 3 p.m. Sunday," Cox said. "He was here early to shoot and I finally kicked him out so I could go home at 7:30 p.m. Everybody else had gone home about 5 p.m. and I kicked him out about 7:30. He had been struggling a little bit on free throws, so he anted to stay and work on those."
Williams says his desire to get better comes from his father, Mitchell, who is disabled from an automobile accident. Tre said he father still gets around well, which he said motivates him to work even harder because he knows he has God-given abilities and is in good health.
"He has always pushed me to be the best," Williams said. "I believe since he can't show me how to do it, he puts it in me to go through him and do it. ... He is always up and going. For him to be disabled and to be that agile and keep coming here and practicing with me, that keeps me going."
While Calvert might be known as the team's Energizer bunny, Williams thought for a moment when asked the best way to describe his game.
"It might sound cocky, but I figure myself as a lion because I think I am the kind and I want to make my presence felt on the court," Williams said.
That's the kind of attitude Williams and the Green Wave are going to have to have Friday if they are going to knock off one of the state's most storied programs. Williams said he and his teammates are looking forward to the matchup just like an up-and-coming football power would be excited about a matchup against West Point. He feels it speaks volumes about how far West Point boys basketball has come that it is in the position to get a victory and move even closer to play for a state title in Jackson.
"Callaway just has that ring to it," Williams said. "Everybody knows Callaway basketball. We want to change our culture here. We want to make our school known as a basketball school and as a basketball school. I think we have done a pretty good job. I think people know West Point basketball when they hear it."
n Pickens Academy 12, North River Christian 10: Shelby Lowe and Sydney Kilpatrick pitched two innings and had three strikeouts to lead the Lady Pirates.
Kacy Noland was 1-for-3 with two walks and three RBIs, Lizzie Shirley was 1-for-2 with two walks and two RBIs, and Lauren Duckworth was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.