April 24, 2010 11:15:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- If there was a more dominant, exciting, and pivotal player than Starkville High''s Rashad Perkins in The Commercial Dispatch coverage area, it might be his alley-oop launcher Edward Townsel.
What put Perkins over the top in The Dispatch''s voting process was his performance in the Class 6A state semifinals and final, where he averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds.
He set the tone with a Herculean effort of 25 points, 14 rebounds, 13 blocked shots and five steals against Biloxi. The future Southern Miss Eagle didn''t suffer any lag against Rodney Hood and Meridian.
Perkins rebuffed questions of carrying the torch after snapping Starkville''s 49-year title drought, insisting the chemistry, depth, and leadership between him and Townsel, the team''s explosive point guard, provided a canvas to paint a memorable state title performance piece.
Still, as a 23-point, 15-rebound per game player this season, Perkins powered the Yellow Jackets and earned him The Dispatch''s Large Schools Boys Player of the Year honors.
Perkins'' athletic ability has never been questioned, as the 6-foot-5 leaper eliminated taller players'' advantages by living above the rim. Rebounds, putbacks, and alley-oops belonged to Perkins and often left opposing teams with the only hope of Perkins getting into foul trouble or having an off game.
Perkins scored 20 points or more in 27 of 33 games this season, capping a career that started with dunks and a freshman season of ineligibility with a state championship, recognition as the state''s Mr. Basketball, and numerous All-Area and All-State honors.
The ride has been spectacular, Perkins said, but as easy as it has looked to fans Perkins had to discipline himself on the court.
"I''ve got ability and potential and I''m a good athlete," Perkins said. "A lot came easy, but a lot came hard. I could always do stuff, but I wasn''t always a complete player. I still think I''ve got a lot to improve to become that player in college.
"The key for me was realizing my team needed me to work hard like it wasn''t coming easy. I knew they expect me to play at a certain level, and I am going to work hard and keep that level of expectation."
Coming off a junior campaign where he put his name in the hat to be the state''s top player by the end of his high school career, Perkins was fueled by the disappointment of losing to Greenville-Weston in the North Half State qualifier.
This season, Greenville-Weston caught the wrath of a loaded Starkville High squad in the North Half State title game. As if there wasn''t enough motivation to steamroll through the Beehive-hosted North Half gauntlet, Vicksburg''s Mychal Ammons -- a friend of Perkins -- and his teammates sent trash-talking texts to Perkins the night before their North Half State semifinal tie.
"Yeah, they were talking a lot of noise," Perkins said. "From there, it was on and we treated it like a rivalry. We had our motivation."
In that game, however, Starkville leaned on someone other than Perkins, who sat the majority of the first half with foul trouble. But sophomores Mike Brand, Calvin Young, and Tory Rice and juniors Jaquez Johnson and Shaquille Hill picked up the slack.
Perkins knew he would play without pressure through the rest of the playoffs.
"It was a worry when we lost Jacolby (Mobley) because he was scoring and handling the ball for us," Perkins said. He was key in our season early on, but when other guys started to step up you just knew everything was going to be right.
"We won everything and everything we said we would. When does it ever happen like that? I can''t ask for much more as a senior."
Despite the disappointment of playoff heartbreak as a sophomore and falling well short as a junior, Perkins said a positive memory from his junior season stuck more and provided more actuation than the knock-out game loss.
"The Noxubee game from last year, when I hit the game-winner," Perkins said. "All our seniors fouled out, it was overtime and it showed us we could win with anybody on the floor. When we played Vicksburg, I thought back to that game, but I thought about the Noxubee game before every game we played this year."
Leaving a champion and with handfuls of individual awards sets the table for Perkins'' career at Southern Miss, where he easily is Larry Eustachy''s highest-profile signing entering the 2010-11 season.
"I can''t wait to get there in June," Perkins said. "I look forward to giving Southern fans the same kind of excitement our Starkville fans got. And you know I''ll try to make it back and see Starkville repeat."