April 11, 2015 9:54:14 PM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School junior Tyson Carter conducted his research, created his plan, and executed it to perfection.
That is the type of leadership that makes Starkville coach Greg Carter happy to call Tyson his player and his son.
"I was looking back through some of the old teams from here," Tyson Carter said. "I was looking back at the past teams that went to Jackson. Every senior class had gone to Jackson at least once, so this was going to be the last time this senior class could keep that streak going. I knew then we had to make sure we found a way to Jackson.
"I wasn't thinking about winning the state championship. I was focused on getting to Jackson. Once you get there really anything can happen. We got there and got the job done."
Greg Carter has led eight Starkville teams to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A or 6A state tournament in Jackson. This season, the Yellow Jackets won the school's first state championship since 2010.
The 6-foot-3 Tyson Carter made the team's engine run at point guard. For his leadership skills, he is The Dispatch's Large Schools co-Player of Year for boys basketball. Carter averaged 17 points, five rebounds, and three assists per game.
"Coaching my son has been an incredible blessing," Greg Carter said. "We have grown up together watching the game and playing the game. He is our leader on the court. He knows what I am thinking, sometimes before even I think it. I am really proud of his growth and this team's growth throughout the season."
Starkville has had more highly acclaimed teams under Carter. After all, this team won't have any Division I basketball signees. Senior Raphael Leonard signed with Florida Atlantic in football. However, the Yellow Jackets used chemistry to make up for what they lacked in star power.
"We didn't have the one big scorer," Tyson Carter said. "We didn't have that one player you could double team and take out of a game. I think we used that to our advantage. On any night, it could be any of us leading the team in scoring. If you were an opponent, you had to focus on our entire team."
Making a mark
Despite early success, the Yellow Jackets didn't crack the state rankings. Starkville won its first eight games but wasn't considered the favorite in its region. Madison Central received that nod.
Quietly, Greg Carter waited patiently as Tyson Carter assumed the leadership role and took ownership of the team. Leonard shifted into basketball shape and sophomore Jesse Little blossomed as a 6-foot-9 center.
"Tyson really became a leader this year," Leonard said. "Normally, a team has a great scorer and that person is your leader, too. In our case, everybody has to chip in and do the scoring. Tyson was a great teammate. He worked hard every day to make every player on the floor better. When we had to have a play, he was going to find a way to make sure we got that play made."
Playing with confidence
The early success gave the Yellow Jackets confidence. Some really good wins followed.
"We started off pretty good, then struggled for a while," Tyson Carter said. "Everything worked out in the end. We played defense and rebounded better in the second half of the season. Since we didn't have that go-to player, everyone really had to do their part. Once each player got a better grasp of their role and what we were trying to do, we were really successful.
"It was my job to make sure things ran well on the floor. Our chemistry was really outstanding. We felt like we were one of the top teams of the state, even though we weren't recognized for it. We kept beating ranked teams, but we felt like each week we had to prove ourselves all over again. That was a really good motivation."
The season turned for good at the strangest part of the schedule. Almost two months prior to the state championship game, Starkville lost a 23-point decision to region rival Columbus. Starkville bounced back three days later to hand Class 4A state champion McComb its only loss.
All hopes for a regular-season region championship were then dashed by a region loss at Madison Central, but Starkville won its final 13 games, including a 43-40 overtime victory against Madison Central in the state championship game.
"After the last loss to Madison Central, we started working harder," Tyson Carter said. "Everybody motivated each other more because we had too much talent to not get to Jackson. My main job was to make sure everybody stayed on the same page. We knew we wanted to keep winning.
"When you have a team that feels that way, it is going to be hard to be denied. Everybody put the team first and each of us wanted to find a way to get it done."
The pressure will shift for Starkville as it will have the bull's eye of playing as the defending state champion. The added benefit of not having a dynamic scorer is the team doesn't have to go out to replace that offensive punch. Starters Little, Carter, and Keith Harris will return.
"Everybody is excited about next season," Harris said. "It's a lot of fun to play with these guys. Tyson sets the standard for us in the weight room, on the practice floor. That is a high expectation level for this program. I know all of the guys that are back look forward to meeting that expectation."
Tyson Carter felt the growth in his game this past season was "gigantic." Now the challenge is to build on the success and to help put the Yellow Jackets in a position to contend again.
"We will have to work even harder this upcoming year," Tyson Carter said. "Everybody will be out to get us. We do lose three main people, so we will have to fill those spots. However, we are going to keep working at it. There is a lot we learned this year together as a team. I am excited about learning even more next year."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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