May 12, 2010 9:18:00 AM
Sammy Smith looks back and smiles when he thinks of where Michael Hall, Akeem Toppin and Bobby Wrench were as freshmen.
The ninth-graders didn''t have a lot of success on the basketball court, but Smith saw the potential in each young man.
"They grew, they grew, the grew and they made steps," Smith said. "The group before them, Philip (Morris) and Josh (Carothers, East Central Community College), made a difference in their lives and made them push a little harder. That made myself and the staff feel real good. I think the community will be pleased with how we have the boys going on (to college) and, hopefully, they will be successful in life and with what they''re going to do."
All three players recently realized opportunities to have basketball be a part of the next steps in their lives. Hall will continue his athletic career at Southwest Mississippi C.C., while Toppin and Wrench will be teammates at Copiah-Lincoln C.C.
Columbus High School senior manager Quintin Moody also will remain associated with basketball in college. He recently signed a scholarship to be the manager of the East Mississippi C.C. men''s basketball team.
Hall, a 6-foot-3 combination guard, averaged 13 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists, Toppin, a 6-5 forward, averaged 12.8 points, 5.96 rebounds, and 1.0 assists, and Wrench, a 6-5 forward, averaged 9.53 points and 5.84 rebounds. They all helped Columbus (13-13) finish as the Class 6A, Division 2 runner-up to eventual state and Grand Slam champion Starkville. Columbus lost to Jackson Murrah 70-58 in the first round of the North Half State playoffs.
"Michael is very coachable," Smith said. "He did a lot of things for us. Akeem came so far from ninth grade to his senior year in high school. He became a better person and a better kid. Bobby has always been quiet, and I think his physical ability grew, and that helped him in his senior year."
Smith believes Hall, Toppin, and Wrench went 2-12 in the ninth grade. He said all three players worked hard to improve and remained disciplined to be a part of the continued growth of the Falcons'' program. He takes pride in the fact that all three young men are versatile and that they should be able to play multiple positions in college.
Hall took his time to find the right school. He said he went to tryouts at several schools, including Hinds C.C. East Central, Copiah-Lincoln, Northeast Mississippi, and worked out for several more before he decided was Southwest Mississippi C.C. was where he wanted to go.
"I am just glad it is over," said Hall, who signed his national letter of intent Sunday. "I was getting impatient. I thought I was going to sign with the next school and that I wanted to get it over with. It got irritating after a while, but two or three weeks ago I went down to Southwest, and from what Phillip told me about the school, I pretty much knew that was where I was going to go."
Toppin said his mother gave him the confidence to know he would realize his dream to play basketball in college. He thanked coach Smith for teaching him the game of basketball to prepare him for the next step.
"The coaches have said I am going to have to be an outside guy and a slasher," Toppin said. "I am going to have to change from the post to the outside, so I have been working every day on my game."
Copiah-Lincoln announced the signing of Toppin and Wrench on May 4.
Wrench said he liked everything about the school and that it was easy to make his decision once he was offered a scholarship. He thought it was going to take a long time to find the right fit, but he was fortunate to find the place to go on his first visit. He said it just worked out that he and Toppin will attend the same school.
"To get an offer on the first visit, I was kind of surprised by that," Toppin said. "They told me I will fit in at the four (power forward position). It will be a tough, hard challenge. I will have to work harder and do a lot more things I didn''t do and high school."
Copiah-Lincoln C.C. went 6-17 this past season. Coach Dennis Sims has signed nine players for next season''s squad.
"We are very excited to get two quality players from Columbus High," Sims said. "Akeem is an inside-outside type of forward who just needs to get stronger. Bobby is a guy with great leaping ability and a nose for rebounding."
Southwest Mississippi C.C. went 3-16 this past season. Hall will join Morris, who was a freshman on the team for 2009-10, next season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
2. Ole Miss earns NCAA bid; Southern Mississippi left out COLLEGE SPORTS