Winning one state championship is hard enough. Winning two in a row is harder. Winning two in a row while coaching two different teams? Before last week, it had never been done in the history of Mississippi high school basketball.
One could say that Michael Smith and Booneville did the impossible when they swept the Class 3A title games for the second-straight season. The girls beat Forest 58-33 on Saturday, and the boys followed that up by defeating Southeast Lauderdale 70-51.
Smith is the head coach of both teams, so he’s accustomed to coaching back-to-back games. But this was different.
“The hardest part is you feel like one group is getting cheated, in a celebration or in a pregame preparation, either one,” Smith said. “… I also think that they’re so close as a group, the two teams are, that they both understand that. They both want each other to win at a high level, and you’ve seen that first hand.”
Indeed I did. After the Lady Devils won, I watched the boys team rush into their locker room at the Mississippi Coliseum for a quick group celebration. The girls returned the favor a couple of hours later.
Another big plus is the close-knitted nature of the coaching staff. Smith’s assistants are Kenny Paul Geno, Chip Johnson, Cole Lauderdale, Micah Moment and Bryant Tynes. Three of those assistants are Booneville alums, and Johnson has three daughters on the varsity squad.
“They’re the backbone of everything,” said Smith. “… We’ve had some that have been head coaches and some that probably should be head coaches. That’s what makes what we do work, is there’s a level of investment in each coach from each other that we all care deeply about each other and also about these programs.”
One of the biggest challenges the coaches faced this season is how different the two teams were in terms of playing style — “polar opposites,” as Smith put it. The boys were long, able to control the paint, and they could score baskets in a hurry. Kedrick Simmons is a 6-foot-6 sophomore who can dunk on your head as easily as he can unfurl a silky-smooth 3-pointer.
The girls had a more deliberate approach. They weren’t super athletic — heck, two of their starters wore knee braces — but the guards were smart and could shoot. And the Lady Devils had Ni’yah Cook, a 6-3 sophomore who was named 3A Miss Basketball this season.
What both teams had in common was the expectation of winning another title. Smith did what he could to lessen that pressure, while also being wary of complacency.
“It’s just, hey, we’re going to prepare the best we can and be the best we can be, and if it ain’t good enough, it’s got to be good enough for us. We let them be free this time to enjoy it,” Smith said.
That’s what he has emphasized with his teams since Saturday’s sweep: Enjoy it. Players are already asking Smith when they can get back to work, and he’s already heard the word “three-peat” being thrown around.
“We tell our kids that you can’t be relieved to win,” Smith said, “you have to have joy in winning.”
Especially when you’ve just made history.
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