April 24, 2010 11:17:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Greg Carter thought being the only team in the state to end the season with a win would feel different after years of playoff disappointment.
The euphoria from winning the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A state title gave the Starkville High School boys basketball coach a myriad emotions. The victory lifted a burden from Carter''s shoulders and certified his tenure at the school with a tradition-setting run that finally provided the hardware to prove it.
But if returning to the court after failing to accomplish all you set out for is difficult, getting over the jubilation of being the best team in the state has proven just as laborious.
It''s like breaking up the band after selling $10 million records and winning a Grammy, or being a military kid and having to move after you''ve found a great group of friends.
"You''re putting this last year behind you," Carter said one month after Starkville High beat Biloxi for the crown. "It''s different when you end with a title, but it''s just as difficult because you''re starting over. It makes it hard when you see guys like Rashad Perkins and Edward Townsel, knowing you''ve got to replace them and what you did is over."
Offseason turnover has produced solid starters in Carter''s eight years at Starkville High, so he isn''t worried about finding players to step in for Perkins, the state''s most exciting player, and Townsel, the quickest guard.
There''s a standard at Starkville High and an understanding that winning basketball is the norm.
Now, state title expectations will have more weight and the Yellow Jackets'' first title defense in 50 seasons will begin with a new collection of players. Some will return with experience from playing in a title game. Others will spring from the successful ninth-grade program.
None of them will hear a word about a state title.
"For me to talk about a state championship with next year''s team, they have to win one," said Carter, The Commercial Dispatch''s Large Schools Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
Wiping the slate and starting anew is another way to push out what has happened and to prepare for what will be everyone''s best shot.
But Starkville High''s consistency already helped solidify it as one of the state''s top programs, so it should be used to getting an opponent''s best shot in 2010-11.
"We''ve established a tradition and because of that you got to be ready to play every night," Carter said. "Teams might not play other teams as well as they play us, but that''s just part of it. We get people''s ''A'' games every night.
"They also know everyone is returning for Meridian. They know Brandon still has the big guy, and Biloxi is going to be pretty good next year. We all know we have an opportunity (to repeat), but in our district Tupelo has just about everybody back."
As much as Carter wants to look toward the future, he has constant reminders enter the gym each day.
The run though the Class 6A playoffs and the Grand Slam win took Carter where he hadn''t been as a prep player or coach.
And as with any state title-winning team, there were plenty of storylines that followed the Yellow Jackets to their 30-win triumph.
A win against Jackson Provine in a classic match in the Columbus Christmas Classic was followed by back-to-back losses to Tupelo and Lanier, the latter being a 25-point blowout.
The defeats gave the Yellow Jackets their only losses of the year, but coaches and players become accustomed to defeat at a young age. It''s a part of the game and part of a season, but losing players creates an added challenge for a team challenging for a championship.
In 2009-10, the depth Starkville High anticipated having dwindled as upperclassmen Antonio Hamilton and James Sharp either weren''t there for the start of the season or were gone by the middle of the season.
Sophomore starting guard Jacolby Mobley took his 10 points a game to the bench once the new year started.
But juniors Jaquez Johnson and Shaquille Hill and sophomores Mike Brand, Calvin Young, and Tory Rice used the extra minutes to become champions in their first varsity season.
The fact that the team didn''t miss a beat as its makeup changed made the title run unique, Carter said.
"It''d start out one way and we''d get good, then have to shift gears to another direction," Carter said. "The chemistry, I was always worried about it. But in the first week of February, things started to fall in line and we started to play well. It carried us all through the state tournament and the Grand Slam."
The Starkville High fan base might not look too much into the seemingly low level of distraction or adversity the Yellow Jackets faced this season, but it''s hard to blame The Beehive faithful because every home game resulted in a win and the team captured the state title.
In that same vein, the Yellow Jackets provided an exciting brand of basketball unique to the Golden Triangle and to the state, especially considering how Perkins and Townsel ditty bopped in Jackson.
What more could a town want?
"You get a point guard (Townsel) that''s quicker than everyone else on the floor, can handle the ball, make shots from 25 feet," Carter said. "You have a forward that''s going to always be over the rim. This was fun and probably the most fun team I''ve had for the fans."
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