By Brad Locke
JACKSON - Latavious Williams got the message.
The sender was Starkville coach Greg Carter, who was upset with Williams' attitude in a Jan. 30 game against Division 2-5A rival Tupelo. So Carter benched his 6-foot-7 junior early in the fourth quarter, and the Yellowjackets went on to lose 62-49 and have their 21-game winning streak snapped.
Since that loss, Starkville (30-2) has reeled off eight straight wins and is playing at perhaps its highest level so far entering today's 2:30 p.m. showdown with Forest Hill (25-10) in the semifinals of the 5A state tournament.
And since that loss, Williams has done a 180.
"At that time, he was more concerned about his offense," Carter said. "I tried to make him understand there's more to it than that. I think he's figured that out."
Williams, who's averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds per game, came up big in the North Mississippi playoffs. He averaged 22.5 points and 17.5 rebounds in the Jackets' two wins, which earned them the North No. 1 seed.
Much to Carter's surprise, that's not all he contributed.
"He's showing a little bit of leadership now," Carter said. "When things are not going as well as they should on the court, he's being more vocal and being more consistent in his play."
Williams' newfound direction bolsters an already strong team that has three strong senior leaders.
"In the past we had one or two guys that really stood out," said Carter, who led Starkville to the 2003 state final, "but this team is more of a team effort."