March 5, 2010 9:53:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School''s run to the state championship game is head coach Greg Carter''s first since 2003 and with as much that''s changed since then he hopes his evolution as a coach translates into a title.
Back in 2003, Starkville lost the championship game to Vicksburgl. As exciting as making it to the championship game was for Carter, getting back to the final game seemed possible, if not probable, especially after qualifying for three more state tournaments the next six years.
But all three return trips to Jackson netted early treks back to Starkville without reaching the final.
Seven years after losing to Vicksburg, Carter remembers little about his first shot at a title.
"They zoned and we weren''t able to make shots," Carter said. "It seemed like we were always playing from behind."
After that game, the Jackets lost in overtime to Biloxi in the 2004 state tourney before losing by three points to Forest Hill in 2007. Then, there was the 2008 loss by two points to Jackson Provine.
That last one is the most vivid for Carter, but of all his trips to the Big House it''s the 2003 title game that stands out the most because the Jackets were one game away and had future NBA first-round pick Travis Outlaw as a senior.
Saturday, Carter will have another go at the title that''s eluded him since he''s taken over at Starkville and created the championship expectations.
Despite a remarkable run that''s seen Starkville (28-2) post the best record in Class 6A and reach the state final with the youngest team in the tournament, Carter''s more excited for his players than he his for himself. In a way, not relishing the return and the opportunity can help forget about what didn''t happen to get the job done in the past.
What Carter does know is he''s improved as a coach since 2003.
"Leaps and bounds," Carter said. "I do things much differently and learned to adjust with each team''s strengths and weaknesses each year. I''ve learned to be patient with them, but at the same time have high demands. This year has been the toughest by far. To lose guys along the way, have so many sophomores and bounce back, it''s been tough.
"But it''s been very rewarding at the same time."
Carter''s task Saturday is to provide the same kind of motivation he did Wednesday, when his team rallied from 11 down and dominated the second half against Biloxi to earn a spot in the final.
Senior guard Edward Townsel said the locker room atmosphere at halftime was do or die.
"Our talk, basically, was about leaving it al on the court," Townsel said. "Mainly, we had to step up and hold some defense. At halftime, coach talked bout defense and just giving it our all. We responded in that third quarter."
Carter stopped short of lauding he and assistant''s Ryan Rodriquez and T.J. Hay''s coaching plaudits this season because there''s still one game left.
Rather, he deflected to his players, whom he''ll be counting on to deliver the program''s first state title.
"I''m just proud of the way we''ve been able to continue to play well," Carter said. "We had a rough stretch in January and guys kept fighting and improving. I''m just proud for them.
"This team''s got a lot of fight. I''ve got no doubt we''ll fight when we get there (Saturday). All we need is one break."
Carter hopes it won''t come down to that.
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