April 19, 2009
STARKVILLE -- Mark White has come to expect certain qualities from boys basketball players at Starkville High School.
In only two seasons as men''s basketball coach at East Mississippi Community College, White has marveled at the contributions former Yellow Jackets have made to his program.
Whether it has been Woodie Howard, John Harris, or Coco Ware, the former Starkville High players have brought high skill levels and even better work ethics to Scooba.
White feels Jeff Jernagin can do the same.
"He plays hard," White said. "He is always competing and he is a good defender. He takes it on himself a lot of times to guard the other team''s best player. We always look for that."
Jernagin officially joined White''s program Friday afternoon when he signed a national letter of intent to play for the Lions.
Jernagin, a 6-foot-4, 189-pound forward, averaged 12 points and eight rebounds this season for coach Greg Carter''s Yellow Jackets. He also was named the team''s defensive player of the year and received the program''s Yellow Jacket award, which recognizes a player for his character, leadership and work ethic.
"Most guys don''t have a chance to go the next level to play ball," Jernagin said. "I am just thankful to get to the next level. It feels good."
Jernagin also considered attending Meridian C.C. and Mississippi Valley State. He said he never doubted a day like Friday would happen for him, even though he might be undersized and might not fit into the mold of a traditional forward.
"I see myself improving a whole lot," Jernagin said. "I improved on something different every year. I improved on my inside game this year. I am going to improve on my outside game and my handle when I get to Scooba. I see myself improving year by year."
Carter said Jernagin has grown up a lot in the past three years. He said Jernagin entered the program with limited basketball experience and kept growing and improving until he became a key contributor in so many ways this season.
"He is a high character guy," Carter said. "You don''t have to worry about him off the floor. He brought a lot to the table."
Carter said Jernagin''s drive and intensity will help him continue to grow as a basketball player in college. He said Jernagin doesn''t like to lose in whatever he does and "has a drive and a motor that keeps turning."
Those are qualities White believes will help Jernagin be a perfect fit with his program.
"He is a really good athlete, he had a good career (at Starkville High), and it is just a matter of coming in and working hard, putting some weight on him, and getting better every day," White said.
White has watched Howard, Harris, and Ware, the team''s leading scorer this season, become solid junior college players. He said the development of those players has taught him what to expect when he recruits and signs a player from Starkville High.
"We have found these guys from Starkville are really competitive," White said. "Anytime coach Carter has a kid up here who has the talent level to play college basketball, we''re going to do whatever we can to make him part of our program."
White said Jernagin will be an undersized four man, or small forward, so he and his coaches will have to work with him to extend his shooting range.
EMCC, which finished 17-11, was a small team this season. White said the team will run an offense that spreads the floor and relies on its players'' individual talents to break down defenders and get to the basket.
Carter believes that system will suit Jernagin and that it only will be a matter of time before Jernagin contributes like the other former Yellow Jackets.
"He is still improving," Carter said. "Between his junior and senior year he got so much better. It is like he was a totally different person. He is going to continue to get better at the college level. His game is going to change and evolve. Right now he is a post player, but at the next level he might be a perimeter player. I don''t know if it will happen tomorrow, but as time goes on he is going to keep getting better at it, and wherever they play him he is going to be good at it."
Jernagin joins EMCC men''s basketball signees Deonte Alexander, of Nashville''s Glencliff High School, Meridian''s Donovan Walker, and Joe McCoy, of Raymond.
n Jernagin earned his individual awards Thursday at the team''s banquet. Other award winners were: Edward Townsel (offensive player of the year), Eduardo Fumo (scholar athlete and sixth man awards), Rashad Perkins (best rebounder and hustle award), James Sharp (most improved player), Bryce Brown (best free throw shooter), ad Michael Oden (manager of the year).
n In EMCC women''s basketball news, Noxubee County High School''s Keyetta Buckhalter and Shanteria Tate signed national letters of intent Friday to play for the Lady Lions.
A 5-foot-11 forward, Buckhalter averaged 9.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.7 blocked shots, and 1.1 steals per contest during her injury-shortened senior campaign. She injured her right knee against New Hope 11 games into the 2008-09 season.
Tate, a 5-6 guard, ranked second on the team in scoring at 11.6 points an outing, and averaged 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.3 steals this past season. Like Buckhalter, she was a three-year starter for Noxubee County and served as team co-captain as a senior.
Buckhalter and Tate helped lead the 17-10 Tigerettes to the 2008-09 Division 4-4A regular-season championship and postseason tournament title. During the past three seasons, they helped pace Noxubee County to a 70-23 record, including three straight Division 4-4A titles and consecutive semifinal-round appearances in the Class 4A North State playoffs in 2008 and 2007.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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