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New Hope provides special moment

 

Adam Minichino

 

Time doesn''t stop in life or in sports. 

 

As soon as one task or game ends, another is ready on the to-do list or a click away via the remote. 

 

But sometimes special moments force you to pause for a moment of reflection. 

 

The Callaway-New Hope High School boys basketball game Friday night in Columbus was one of those instances. The Chargers'' 78-75 double-overtime victory in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A North Half State semifinals was a delight. The game featured clutch shots, drama, and one-on-one and team brilliance. 

 

The effort with which both teams played shined the brightest. There often are so many distractions in high schools sports -- parents, coaches, officials -- that take away from the the game. On some occasions, you even have to wonder if all of the players are fully invested in what they''re doing. 

 

That wasn''t the case Friday night, and that''s why it was so special. 

 

Each team gave its all knowing a loss would end its season. That urgency was more critical for New Hope. The Trojans weren''t as tall, quick, or as talented as the defending Grand Slam champion Chargers. 

 

It didn''t matter. 

 

New Hope played its best game of the season because all of the Trojans played as one. They were patient. They were disciplined. They were hungry. 

 

Their passion helped them battle back from a double-digit deficit in the second quarter and nearly pull an improbable upset. 

 

But the unlikely is never far from being realized in life or in sports if the energy and focus is there.  

 

Maybe that''s why the immediacy of life''s constant flow struck me Friday night. Nearly 15 minutes after New Hope''s loss, the Trojans no longer were a team led by Johnathan Brandon, Raymond Walters, Davis Lee, and Matt Thrash. 

 

Instead, Jamal Richardson and Hank Washington were now two of the young men whose responsibility it was to continue a string of six consecutive district championships. 

 

Richardson sensed the changing of the guard when he talked about what it meant to play so hard and to come so close to realizing a dream to play in Jackson. 

 

Instead, he was left to wonder what could have been and to plot his offseason to position himself to help push the Trojans to the "Big House" next season. 

 

"The thing we can learn is when we get out on their court we leave our heart," said Richardson, who had 12 points Friday night. "We''re going to take this as a big motivation. I know the junior class is. We''re going to try to get a championship before we leave." 

 

Richardson, an undersized guard, epitomizes the Trojans'' grit. He played with poise and showed he could hang with some of the best players in the state. 

 

Brandon and Walters were at similar points earlier in their careers. They watched as Rashanti Harris and Dale Hughes helped New Hope win a state title in 2008. They were far from key players on that multi-talented squad, but they learned in practice, took their lumps, and waited their turns for their opportunities to shine. 

 

Neither Brandon nor Walters has eye-popping size or explosiveness a la Callaway High junior Deville Smith. But both players have solid games and even hungrier hearts. They showed their tenacity -- and a few nifty behind-the-back and between-the legs moves -- in nearly willing the Trojans to the victory. 

 

That''s why Shelton State Community College assistant men''s basketball coach Timothy Law was waiting for Brandon in the hallway outside of the New Hope locker room after the game. There''s no telling if Brandon will go to SSCC. Brandon also mentioned East Mississippi C.C., Kirkwood C.C. (Iowa), and Colorado State as schools that have shown interest in him. His shooting range and basketball IQ likely will help him secure an opportunity to continue his basketball career in college. 

 

Brandon also appreciates the players who have come before him and understands the examples they have set. He hopes he helped build on New Hope''s basketball tradition with a hard-working season in which he learned that shooting struggles aren''t enough to keep someone down. 

 

"New Hope is a program built in practice," Brandon said. "The older guys always make the younger guys better. Players have to step up, and you''re going to be like, ''Where did he come from?'' We don''t breed big players like (the Jackson schools), but we are in the gym shooting 24-7. I don''t know where I am going, but when I can be back here, I am going to be at every game. The Trojans made me. When I go to college, I am going to open doors for everybody else. I am going to be calling everybody to make sure they are straight." 

 

Brandon hated the season had to end, but he was extremely proud of the heart and the character New Hope showed. He said he was flattered Callaway showed him the respect it did by guarding him like it did. 

 

Walters, too, took pride in the Trojans'' self-confidence and togetherness. He said it was gratifying that New Hope gave a spirited performance, one that helped erase the memory of an 83-63 loss to Callaway last year in the Class 4A North Half State Tournament.  

 

Walters was most satisfied that New Hope''s heart was on display for 40 minutes. 

 

"We have been working on heart since the sixth or the seventh grade," Walters said. "We had to go up against Rashanti and Dale and all of them (in practice), and they had heart. We looked at them and said we need to get heart like them so we can go somewhere and play good like they do." 

 

McBrayer said the Trojans showed "a ton" of heart Friday night. He said his team didn''t allow its lack of size or the fact that Callaway might have been more talented to mess with its focus. He said the players forged that toughness in practice. 

 

"They have that pride we talk about every day in practice to get after it and to fight and to claw to let them know that you''re here," McBrayer said. "I thought we did that tonight. It is kind of what the program was built on." 

 

McBrayer said Richardson showed flashes this season of being someone who will be able to handle a bigger role in 2010-11. He said Washington, too, will have to take on more responsibility, as will all of the returning players. 

 

As difficult as it to imagine, the offseason for those players began Saturday morning. There won''t be anyone pushing them to go to the gym or to the park to practice their games. Before they know it, September will be here and basketball season will be at hand. Will they be ready to assume that responsibility and to play as hard as their teammates did against Callaway? 

 

McBrayer hopes so, but those challenges won''t exist only on the basketball court. They will apply to every facet of life. Friday night''s game showed anything can be accomplished when an individual or a team gives everything it has. When that effort is given it is a little easier to look back, to smile, and to set your sights on the next challenge in front of you. 

 

 

 

Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at aminichino@cdispatch.com. 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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