November 1, 2010 12:22:00 PM
SCOOBA - Looking to maintain the combined success of the past two campaigns, the East Mississippi Community College basketball teams tip off their respective basketball seasons with four straight road doubleheaders to begin November.
After their season openers today against Jones County in Ellisville, the EMCC squads will venture to East Central (Nov. 6), Hinds (Nov. 8) and Meridian (Nov. 11) before tipping off home action with a doubleheader rematch versus East Central on Nov. 18 in Scooba.
The East Mississippi teams enjoyed postseason success against the Jones County clubs a year ago. The Lady Lions claimed a 71-56 victory over the state champion JCJC Lady Bobcats in the opening round of last year''s NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Clinton, while the Lions scored an 81-79 overtime triumph over the Jones County men in the semifinals of last year''s EMCC-hosted MACJC State Tournament.
Guided by fourth-year head coach and 2009-10 NJCAA District 15 Coach of the Year Mark White, the East Mississippi Lions are ranked 10th nationally in The Sporting News'' Preseason 2010-11 College Basketball Yearbook as well as 29th in the NJCAA''s preseason national poll.
EMCC returns four significant contributors, including three starters, from last year''s 27-7 squad that made a program-first appearance in the NJCAA Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
Minus 2009-10 NJCAA All-American CoCo Ware, EMCC''s veteran group is expected to be paced by sophomore guard Deonte Alexander. The Nashville native earned 2009-10 MACJC All-State North Division honors and postseason all-tournament team accolades after averaging 13.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and a team-high 3.6 assists per game as a collegiate freshman.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound backcourt performer also led last year''s team with 66 made 3-pointers as a 33-game starter.
Panama native Jonathan King, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward, was EMCC''s third-leading scorer (8.9 ppg) and top rebounder (7.0 rpg) last season, in addition to shooting 52 percent from the field with 20 starting assignments as a freshman.
Versatile swing player Donovan Walker (6-4, 195) from Meridian averaged 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds a season ago for the Lions, while improved guard Joe McCoy (6-1, 215), a former Raymond High School product, added 3.2 points and 1.9 boards per outing mostly in a reserve role as a rookie.
Among those newcomers expected to immediately challenge for starting roles for the Lions include All-Metro Jackson point guard D.J. Evans and former West Oktibbeha High School standout Deon Bedford. A 5-foot-8, 165-pound playmaker from Brandon, Evans was an All-Metro Second Team selection by The Clarion-Ledger newspaper a year ago as a prep senior. Bedford, a dynamic 6-foot-5, 185-pound athlete, sat out the 2009-10 campaign for the Lions.
Under the direction of sixth-year head coach Sharon Thompson, the EMCC Lady Lions have compiled a 40-20 mark over the past two seasons after posting a 15-13 record last year in making the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament for the second straight season.
Two years ago, the East Mississippi women were 25-7 in advancing to the NJCAA Tournament in Salina, Kan., after capturing the 2008-09 MACJC North Division regular-season crown and NJCAA Region 23 Tournament title.
Despite the departure of All-Region 23 forward Martika Hull, the Lady Lions return three of their top five scorers and rebounders for the 2010-11 campaign.
As a 27-game starter a year ago, guard Natalie Tate of Columbus averaged 12.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.3 steals per contest in her rookie campaign, along with knocking down a team-most 43 made 3-pointers and shooting a club-best 70 percent from the charity stripe.
Sophomore forward Nashedra Barry, Tate''s former Columbus High School teammate, added 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds an outing as a 17-game starter last season, while veteran guard Shanteria Tate of Noxubee County contributed 5.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and a team-high 3.0 assists per game with 21 starting nods a year ago for the Lady Lions.
Though sidelined to start the upcoming season after undergoing preseason knee surgery, the health of sophomore transfer Jamie Gunter of Columbus could determine EMCC''s postseason fortunes. The athletic 5-foot-9 performer averaged 5.0 points and 2.4 rebounds a game in reserve action last year at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference.
Also being counted on to supply significant production as first-year EMCC players are international standout guard Kiara Quinones Noa of Puerto Rico and freshman forward Raven Howard from New Orleans.
Most recently, Quinones Noa averaged 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.0 steals in five tournament outings representing her native Puerto Rico in this summer''s FIBA Americas U18 Championship for Women in Colorado Springs, Colo.