October 17, 2017 10:24:28 AM
Believe the hype.
Anthony Carlyle is accustomed to the noise that accompanies events like Purple Madness, the season-opening spectacle for the Columbus High School basketball teams.
After winning four Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 3A State championships in five years at Velma Jackson High, Carlyle's goal is to bring the same sustained success to Columbus High. The school's first-year head coach took the initial step in that direction Monday with his first official practice of the 2017-18 season. A few hours later, Carlyle and Columbus High girls basketball coach Yvonne Hairston's team took part in the Purple Madness showcase, which featured a skills competition, a 3-point shooting event, and a slam dunk contest.
"There is a lot of hype surrounding this season with it being Robert (Woodard II)'s last season, with Casey (Smith) transferring over, and me leaving Velma Jackson," Carlyle said. "I am excited to get started. I am ready to get consistent with practice."
Carlyle said he and his assistant coaches came up with the slogan in an effort to embrace the expectations that surround a program that won its first state championship in boys basketball in 2016. Last season, Carlyle led Velma Jackson to 46-32 victory against Cleveland East Side in the MHSAA Class 3A State title game on March 10 at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Mississippi State signee Nikolas Weatherspoon had 18 points to lead Velma Jackson to the crown. Weatherspoon is the brother of MSU guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who led Velma Jackson to Class 3A State titles as a senior, junior, and sophomore.
Carlyle replaces Gary Griffin, who led Columbus to a 16-13 record and the MHSAA Class 6A State tournament last season. Carlyle will be the school's fourth coach in four years.
Carlyle started to work with his new players in April. He officially started work Aug. 2. Carlyle spent much of the first two months on the job working to improve the players' conditioning. The Falcons spent multiple days a week running sprints on the school's track or climbing the stadium steps at the football stadium. He said the Falcons finished that work at the end of September and have worked on fundamentals and skill development since then. Carlyle said there is a lot of work to do with about 16 players on the varsity roster.
"Everything we are going through is basically brand new and fresh,so it takes a little more patience and a little more time to get everything going," said Carlyle, who admits he has grown to become more patient through the years, even if his players don't agree. "I understand the process and what it takes and how it has to work."
The offseason work has paid huge dividends. Senior guard Casey Smith, a transfer from West Lowndes High, has lost 17 pounds. He said Monday he feels better equipped to do the things that helped make him one of the state's top point guards last season.
"There are things I can do so much easier (without the 17 pounds)," Smith said. "When I met coach Carlyle and saw the workouts we were doing, I realized immediately I could lose that much weight. About the third week, I got in the mirror and realized coach turned me into what he wanted me to be."
This season, Smith is expected to team with classmates Woodard II, Denijay Harris, Aaron Johnson, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Texas, and RJ Deloach, a transfer from Columbus Christian Academy, to help Carlyle establish the foundation for a championship program.
Woodard II, who was named the state of Mississippi's Gatorade Player of the Year last season, figures to be a go-to player for the Falcons after a busy summer that saw him compete at the invitation-only Nike Basketball Academy in August in Los Angeles. Earlier in the summer, Woodard II capped his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) season by helping Team Thad, which is named for NBA standout Thaddeus Young, win the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament on July 30-Aug. 2. The team went 3-0 in pool play and finished 8-0.
Woodard II said "believe the hype" is self explanatory and that the Falcons won't do a lot of talking about what they think they can accomplish. He believes the Falcons have the potential to live up to the expectations.
"We have to execute the plan," Woodard II said. "There is n o pressure going into this senior season. I feel like I have a great group of guys around me, so we are just going to go out and have fun and play like we play."
Carlyle said Columbus' versatility might be its best attribute. He said the Falcons have multiple players who can play a variety of roles, which should help them attack multiple styles. Carlyle said his job will be to figure out how those skills fit best at the same time and to help the players understand their roles.
"The biggest area we have to grow in is on the defensive end," said Carlyle, who is in his seventh season as a head coach. "I know that is going to be a work in progress and it is going to take some time to get it where we want. Defense is what helps you prevail in the postseason."
Columbus will open its season Oct. 28 at the New Hope High Jamboree. It will open the regular season against Itawamba Agricultural on Nov. 10. Columbus also will play Memphis East on Nov. 20 in the MLK Classic at Hamilton High in Memphis, Tennessee, and Hazel Green (Ala.) and Madison Prep (La.) on Nov. 24-25 in the Lighthouse Thanksgiving Classic in Corinth.
NOTE: Woodard II won the slam dunk contest, while Greg King won the 3-point shooting contest and Jacob Williams on the skills competition. Hannah White won the girls 3-point shooting contest and Jabria Snell won the skills competition. White beat King for the overall title, while Williams defeated Snell for the skills crown.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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