By Parrish Alford
Most Lee County coaches would place the Shannon boys and the Nettleton girls in the favorites role for the 1995 Lee County Tournament which begins Thursday at Shannon High School.
But Mike Scott and Joe Ferguson aren't most coaches. They coach the favorites, and each has a different reason for shunning the added attention.
"We just really aren't playing well right now," said Scott, the Shannon boys coach. "I thought we started out playing about as well as we could play, but to be honest, we've had trouble hitting foul shots down the stretch. We missed eight or nine down the stretch the other night."
The other night was a 64-61 loss to Aberdeen in Shannon's own round robin tournament.
The loss was Shannon's first since November and left the Red Raiders at 13-3 entering the county tournament.
The girls bracket
The Nettleton Lady Tigers are gunning for their third straight Lee County Tournament championship. Last year the Lady Tigers defeated Tupelo 83-72 at Tupelo and overcame a 48-point, 19-rebound effort by Tupelo's Tamika Whitmore. Whitmore went on to sign with the University of Memphis. Nettleton girls coach Joe Ferguson, whose Lady Tigers begin play at 9-3, says defense has been a problem for his team this year.
"The way we played last weekend, I can't tell you that we're the favorites," he said. "We're doing pretty well on offense, but we act like we don't know how to play defense. We're struggling with how to play the zone defense after the playing the man. We've been working on it for the last couple of days, and I hope we can solve it."
Shannon girls coach Glenda Scott is hoping Nettleton doesn't solve its defensive problems, at least not yet.
The Lady Red Raiders, who begin play at 5-8, have been on the bad end of some lopsided games this season. Still, Glenda Scott believes her team has turned a corner, thanks mostly to improved play by the upperclassmen on an otherwise young team.
"We played real well against Calhoun City and Tupelo in the (Shannon) tournament," she said. "I had been worried about them (the team). I needed a guard to step up, and Robyn Mabry has come on taken charge."
Scott says the improved play of Mabry, a junior, and senior Nancy Hooks has been a key to recent improvement for the Lady Red Raiders. Mabry had 20 points against Calhoun City and 18 against Tupelo in Shannon Tournament games.
"Robyn has been the key in the last two games," Scott said. "We had been lacking at the guard spot, not having anybody to penetrate and get the ball to the big girls. She has started taking charge and has been the leader on the team that we haven't had."
Scott isn't ready to give the Lee Tournament title to the Lady Tigers.
"Mooreville is playing well, and they have a great chance in the tournament too," she said. "We played some summer league games against Nettleton, and we know we can play with them if we continue to play well."
Like the Lady Red Raiders, who featured a couple of freshmen in the lineup, the Nettleton girls are young also, a concern Ferguson noted.
"We've still got some inexperience out there with two sophomores," Ferguson said. The 10th grade duo includes Latesha Seals and Melissa Jones. The Lady Tigers also start juniors Portia Jones and Teneeshia Jones and senior Cheryl Jones.
The boys bracket
Mooreville coach Rex Berryman will give the nod to Shannon, but is quick to point out how competitive the field will be.
"You have to look at Shannon because of the fact that they're playing well right now, even though they were upset the other night. And the tournament is at Shannon."
A tournament title would allow the Red Raiders to successfully defend the championship they won last year at Tupelo. The Raiders defeated Tupelo High on hits home court in a hard fought 63-58 decision.
"You still can't count out Tupelo or anybody else," Berryman said. "I'd put Shannon first and Tupelo second, then the rest of us with an outside shot. There's always that possibility in basketball. If you play hard, you can win."
The Troopers start the tournament at 13-3. Berryman says Rhasheen Dilworth has improved almost every aspect of his game. "Sam Staples is doing well at point guard, getting a lot of assists, and Anthony Hurd is scoring well right now," Berryman said.
"I think we're playing fairly well right now," he continued. "I thought we played well in our tournament last week, but it was hard to tell because of the (lack of) playing time that some of the starters go. We'll have to play well to compete this week."
That's what Nettleton coach Jeff Finch is saying as well, as his Tigers begin the tournament at 7-5 and with one of the county's most exciting offensive players Reggie Sharp. Sharp is averaging close to 30 points a game.
"I see the field in general as being very strong," Finch said. "I think the competition in Lee County would compare with most any county. Year in and year out it's very strong, especially on the boys side. Shannon, Mooreville and Tupelo are probably the teams that stand out the most, but if we play up to our capabilities we can compete."
Playing up to capabilities has been a problem at times for Nettleton this year.
"We have not been as consistent as we need to be. There have been some nights when our scoring has been balanced, and that's when we've played our best. Some nights we're not as balanced as we need to be."
Finch sees Shannon with a good chance to defend its 1995 county title.
"I think Shannon might be the favorite. When we drew up the bracket nobody wanted to play them in their gym," he said.
Scott begrudgingly accepts the favorites' role and concedes the home gym as an advantage.
"I guess we have an advantage playing it at our place, but it still could be anybody's tournament."