November 13, 2013 7:03:50 AM
The stare typically is one Sammy Smith reserves for officials.
The Columbus High School boys basketball coach will plant his hands on his hips and tilt his head as a "You've got to be kidding me" look spreads across his face.
This time, though, Smith's ire wasn't directed at an official. Locked in his stance, Smith gazed at point guard Javonta McDavid, who had just been whistled for a five-second violation. The veteran coach then snapped to attention and re-directed his focus to a more deserving player: C.J. Scott.
"You should know that," Smith barked at Scott, chastising the senior for the sophomore's lapse in judgment.
Scott has grown accustomed to having Smith in his ear. As the team's point guard for the past three seasons, Scott has matured from a slight, pass-all-of-the-time floor general into a stronger and more confident leader. The 5-foot-7 senior may have had only five points Tuesday night, but his leadership and example set the tone for Columbus in its 61-42 victory against West Lowndes in the season opener for both teams.
"(Coach Smith) has been putting that one me since ninth grade," Scott said. "It is only going to make me better."
Smith said Scott should have come to the ball once he recognized McDavid wasn't aware of the official's count because that is the responsibility of a point guard. In fact, Smith moved quickly in front of the Columbus bench when he saw McDavid not advancing the ball and nearly reached the official in time to bail him out with a timeout.
"That is a maturity factor that is something C.J. can carry on, and we hope young No. 4 can learn why," Smith said.
Scott had just worked off a screen and was on the other side of the court. He said he recognized too late and didn't speak up in time to alert McDavid. Scott has learned the importance of details like that is his first three seasons. Against West Lowndes, he showed the ability to penetrate that he has flashed earlier in his career. He also displayed a more confident shooting stroke that allowed him to work off an elbow screen and pull up for a jump shot. That may not sound like a big step, but Scott usually deferred to his teammates in scoring situations the past few seasons.
"Once I played as a ninth-grader and went from middle school basketball to varsity, the game speed went from normal to very fast," Scott said. "Playing like that helped me get accustomed to it and now I am able to slow the game down even more.
"Coach has been telling me when I am coming off the ball screen if it is open, take the shot. If I don't take the shot, they are not going to play on me and they are going to play on the inside against our big guys. I have to take shots to open up the floor for my teammates."
This season, Smith said Scott will have to take on a bigger role, which includes scoring and getting the basketball to the right people in the right spots. He hopes Scott also can be an example for younger players like 6-7 center Antravious McDyess. The sophomore, who is the son of former NBA standout Antonio McDyess, had five points and double-digit rebounds in his first varsity start. Smith coached Antonio McDyess at Quitman High.
"One thing we have pride about is we teach our kids how to play," Smith said. "Those who aren't superstars learn how to play and become great players. We aren't looking for superstars. We are looking for team players. C.J. and our other three seniors (D.D. Walker, Brandon Porter, and Charles Stacker) have grown into that leadership role. That is going to help us down the road. Once the younger kids catch up in any kind of way, I think we will be a solid team as the year progresses."
In the first game, the Columbus girls held on for a 38-37 victory against West Lowndes. The Lady Panthers had two shots to win the game in the final 7.4 seconds but couldn't convert.
Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston acknowledged this season is going to be an adjustment after losing team leaders like Kiki Patterson, Daisha Williams, who is playing basketball at Northeast Mississippi Community College, and LaTerrica Jefferson, who signed at Snead State (Ala.) C.C. With only two seniors -- Bri Edinburgh and Porchia Brooks -- the Lady Falcons are less experienced than they have been in the past few seasons. But Hairston believes Columbus can use its depth to make up for its lack of experience. The Lady Falcons went deep into their 12-player roster and used pressure defense to build their biggest lead, 20-9 at halftime
But West Lowndes rallied in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 24-23 with eight minutes to go. The Lady Panthers tied the game once and had four chances in the period to take their first lead since the first quarter. Columbus built its lead to as many as six in the fourth quarter before West Lowndes rallied behind the play of Kadejiah Smith (15 points) and LaQuesha Clemmons (16). Smith hit two free throws with 58 seconds left to cut Columbus' lead to 38-37. The teams traded turnovers before the Lady Panthers maintained possession on a jump ball with 7.4 seconds to play. Smith missed a layup from the right wing, only to have Clemmons grab the rebound in the lane. But the junior's shot was off target.
"We didn't play as well as we would have liked, but we are so young, so hopefully we can learn from these mistakes and get a little better," Hairston said. "We could never get that rhythm back (in the third quarter) that we had going in, but you're going to get that inconsistency when you have a young team. West Lowndes came out and put a little more pressure on the ball and my girls weren't flashing to the ball like they were supposed to.
"What I did like about them is they didn't give up. They had good effort throughout the game and we got in our press and got some turnovers but missed some easy baskets down there that I think we're going to make. We can only get better from here."
Edinburgh led Columbus with 16 points. Sophomore Jasmine Johnson had eight points, and classmate Rokila Wallace added six.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.