July 3, 2014 5:49:56 PM
ABERDEEN -- Erise Wilson Jr. feels Team Elite Mississippi can compete with the best squads in the nation.
Later this month, Wilson's Amateur Athletic Union travel boys basketball team will get a chance to show a group of players from the Greater Golden Triangle area can hold its own against the best there is when it plays in the AAU Division I 11th-grade Nationals in Louisville, Ky. The team, which is made up of players from Aberdeen, Columbus, Noxubee County, and West Point high schools, will leave from the area July 21 in time to arrive for registration and the first coaches meetings July 22. The team will then play one game each of the next three days to determine where it will be seeded for the double-elimination event, which will feature teams from across the country.
Team Elite Mississippi earned a spot in the national showcase tournament by going 22-2 this season in AAU tournaments to earn the top seed from the state of Mississippi. Wilson said three other teams from the state will compete in Kentucky.
For Wilson, a retired senior officer specialist/protective agent with the United States Department of Justice, the trip will be the realization of a dream. A year ago, Wilson's team also earned a chance to compete at the Nationals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida, but it couldn't secure the funding to make the event.
This year, Wilson said the city of Aberdeen, where the team practices at the parks and recreation center, has agreed to pay to team's $645 registration fee. He said the team needs to come up with nearly $1,700 for five hotel rooms for the week and money to pay for food while the team is there.
Wilson said the fact that the team, which has seen players come and go for various reasons throughout the year, has come together despite having individuals from so many teams gives him confidence it will be able to find a way to come up with the money and make its mark in Kentucky.
"They are ready to go," Wilson said. "They are going to love it. They are anxious to play against some of the top-ranked players in the country."
On Tuesday, Team Elite Mississippi regrouped in Aberdeen for its first practice since May. Wilson said all of his players spent the month of June working with their high school teams in various tournaments in the area. Now that he has everyone back together, Wilson is focused on honing the team chemistry to ensure a successful trip. Even though the team goes only 10 players deep, Wilson said the team has a bunch of athletes, especially in the backcourt, and enjoys sharing the basketball so it doesn't have to rely on one player to carry the load.
Wilson said the event also will allow players to attract the attention of college coaches. Although it is late in the recruiting season, some coaches still may need players or could be convinced to bring another player in, so Wilson wants all of his players -- regardless of class -- to make the most of the chance. A year ago, guard Jason Tate, Columbus High's Demorius Walker, and New Hope High's Whyatt Foster and Curtaves "Tae" Latham did just that when they were selected to be in the 2013 edition of the AAU magazine. The magazine recognizes some of the best AAU players in the United States. The four Team Elite Mississippi players secured that honor despite not playing in the AAU Nationals.
This year, Walker, is back for his final season. He hopes he will be able to make an impression on a college coach. If he doesn't, he said he will try to walk on to the basketball team at Millsaps College in Jackson.
"It has been hard because we didn't have a practice facility, but now that we have one the only thing we can do is come in and work hard," Walker said. "Everybody has come in and pushed each other and played hard. Everybody has put their mind together and just played.
"We have a lot of guys who can get to the basket, we have some who can shoot, but our strength is our guards. We can control the tempo of our games and limit turnovers."
Jason Davis, who was a senior at Columbus High last school year, also will have one more chance to make an impression. Davis also has aspirations to enter the United States Air Force. If given the opportunity, though, he would like to have a chance to go to school and to play basketball. He hopes Team Elite Mississippi's teamwork will help him showcase his skills.
"We have some good players who are working hard," Davis said. "We just go out and play our hardest and play our best."
Marcus Carouthers, who was a junior at Aberdeen High last school year, has an advantage over Walker and Davis in that he has another year of prep basketball to earn a college scholarship. Carouthers said he already has attracted interest from several junior colleges in the state as well as other four-year schools. Carouthers has played with Team Elite Mississippi since March and the exposure has helped him raise his profile. He hopes he and the team can show out in Kentucky to back up their 22-2 record.
"This is going to help me out a lot," said Carouthers, whose brother, Terrell, also is on the team. "There are going to be a lot of scouts there, so we are going to have to give it our all."
Wilson doesn't want to put too much pressure on his team, but he is confident about his team's abilities. He feels its athleticism, quickness, and togetherness will give it a solid chance to be one of the top teams.
"I have watched these kids play through any adversity and they have unbelievable chemistry," Wilson said. "I really think we are going to win the whole thing. That is not reaching. If we lose, we are going to beat ourselves. Everywhere we have gone this year, we have been dominant. We have played against some really, really tough teams. It showed in Birmingham (Ala., where the team won a title). You just don't go to Atlanta and win a tournament, (which the team did). I don't know what other teams have, but I know what I have. I know if they beat us they are going to know they have been in a dogfight."
Wilson said the players' ability to keep fighting has been a constant through all of the personnel changes in the program. He said the squad overcame the loss of two players before the state tournament. He believes all of the hard work everyone has put in has made their bonds stronger.
Now it's time to put that chemistry to the test against the nation's best.
"I couldn't practice last year," Wilson said. "We are practicing. That is all we need, a little bit of practicing to get the kids where they need to be."
Jartavious Dobbs, Nicholas Sims, and Queshon Young (Aberdeen), Jarvis Jackson (Columbus), Malik Foster (West Point), and Damian Conner (Noxubee County) also are members of the team.
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.