A great player and a great guy: Coaches, teammates reflect on Sibley’s career as HOF induction looms

By BY MARK H. STOWERS FOR THE E-T,

There will be an IA class reunion of sorts in Pearl this weekend.

As the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame inducts its 18th class, there will be another familiar Delta face – CDA and IA’s own, Mike Sibley.

The Inverness native will be the first ever basketball player inducted along with five others in a ceremony that begins with a meet and greet at 11:15 a.m. Saturday, followed by the ceremony at noon at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds CC Rankin Campus located at 515 Country Place Parkway in Pearl. Tickets are $30 and reservations can be made online at msais.org.

The MAIS HOF is filled with Delta area coaches and players with a strong blue and white Colonel influence.

“This is a huge honor,” Sibley said. “I want to thank the MAIS for bestowing this honor upon me. I’d also like to thank my family, friends, teammates, coaches, business associates and other MAIS Hall of Fame members who have supported me throughout my life. I am the most blessed person that there has ever been for having known each of you.”

These days, Sibley lives in North Carolina with his wife Gina and two daughters.

The successful businessman put his basketball competitiveness in boardrooms from Jackson to Birmingham to Dallas and Charlotte with his Information Technology prowess.

The son of the late Jim and Charlotte Sibley burst onto the basketball scene at Central Delta Academy when he averaged more than 50 points a game and mostly for a state record, 64-point outing against IA (72-63).

He would later pump in another 59 against the Colonels, 57 against Lee Academy and MPSA rival coaches were looking at three more years of this red-headed scoring nightmare when he transferred to IA.

But one coach that was licking his chops to get his hands on the Inverness talent was IA’s Buddy Walden.

Himself a former high school star and scholarship player at Northeast Junior College and Mississippi State, Walden had landed in the Delta with an abundance of basketball talent on both the boys’ and girls’ teams.

His first three years, he coached the boys team and then picked up the girls coaching duties.

“He was and I still think this – he was the best private school player to ever come through the private schools. He was right at 25 points a game for me for three years, right at 60 percent from the field and above 80 percent at the free throw line. That’s outstanding stats. And those stats matched up with anybody around the whole state,” Walden said. “He was a really good defensive player and a super athlete. He was smart and he could step out on the track and run a 440 and just burn it up.”

Former teammate, and outstanding player himself, Lee Stratton was a year behind him at IA and got to experience Sibley’s excellence in athletics.

“He was a fantastic ballplayer and a fantastic guy,” Stratton said. “He was head and shoulders above everybody else. He was a great leader and just a great, great guy. He was one of those guys who took you under his wing and obviously led by example. He could play. He could just flat out play.”

Stratton remembers Sibley’s senior year and a finals game in the North AAA at Jackson Prep where he stepped it up a bit.

“They had this great wall of football players with their jerseys on and they were giving heck to all of our guys and you know what? It didn’t bother Mike Sibley one bit,” Stratton said. “He actually loved it. It didn’t phase him one bit.”

On one game when Stratton took a “real physical foul” and was standing at the free throw line, Sibley came over with some words of confidence.

“Knock these sons of a guns down and show that guy what you’re made of,” Stratton said of Sibley’s interaction. “He just built confidence in you. He believed in himself but boy, he believed in his teammates and in Coach Walden.”

Mike helped commence the golden age of basketball at Indianola Academy under the tutelage of Walden.

Over the next five years Indianola Academy’s mens and womens basketball teams won a combined total of eight Academy State AAA, Overall, and BiState Championships under Walden.

As a sophomore, Mike averaged 19 points and six rebounds per game and shot 51 percent from the field in a tough North AAA Conference.

He was voted All North AAA and the team’s Most Valuable Offensive Player and Scholastic Award winner.

Possibly more impressive were his results on the track. Mike was State AAA champion in the 440-yard dash and he anchored the record-setting mile-relay team on the way to the school’s first North AAA track title. The mile-relay record still stands as a school and North AAA record.

As a Junior, Mike averaged 27 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while making an astonishing 63 percent of his field goal attempts – often while being doubled teamed by defenses designed specifically to stop him.

The Colonels won their first Academy State AAA championship in school history and Mike was awarded All North AAA, All State AAA, All Academy Overall, and was named a Street and Smiths All American. He again was voted the team’s Most Valuable Offensive Player and Scholastic winner.

During Mike’s senior season at IA he averaged 25 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and shot 55 percent from the field.

These results were logged without the aid of the three-point field goal line which wasn’t instituted for another 10 years.

The Colonels were defeated in the State Tournament by the undefeated and Steve Rives coached Jackson Prep Patriots but not before Sibley scored 35 points in his final high school outing.

He was again awarded All North AAA, All State AAA and the teams Most Valuable Offensive Player and Scholastic award.

Sibley was chosen for the Academy All Star game and was awarded Most Valuable Player while scoring 32 points in three quarters of action. He scored 25 points in the second half alone.

During his senior year at Indianola, Sibley was nominated for multiple All American teams and was also awarded the Outstanding Senior Athlete award which represents Indianola Academy’s highest athletic honor.

The award was presented by Headmaster Peter Jernberg, himself a member of the MAIS Hall of Fame. Mike was also awarded a scholarship to Delta State University to play basketball.

“Mike was going to be the first private school player signed at Mississippi State but then they backed off,” Coach Walden said. “They signed Ray White from Gulfport and that was the worst mistake they ever made. He would have been an outstanding SEC guard. I know because I played there and he was a lot better than I was. (laughing).”

Sibley would accept a scholarship to Delta State instead and led the league in assists as a point guard. Walden went over to DSU to watch Sibley and talked to his coach A.C. Williams at the time.

“I said, ‘A.C., this boy can score. I don’t understand.’ And A.C. said, ‘I don’t need him to score.’” Coach Walden replied, “You need something, you’re 7-19 (win/loss).”

Sibley would transfer to Belhaven and set records there under head coach Charlie Rugg.

Without the benefit of the three-point line in both high school and college, Sibley is still fifth on their all-time scoring list. Walden caught up with him in Jackson after beating Prep and asked about his play at Belhaven the previous night.

“He said, ‘I scored 40 and missed one shot but that one rolled around and should have gone in,’” Walden recalled. “I talked to Charlie Rugg and I told him he’s the best I’ve ever seen about finishing around the basket.”

Sibley recently participated in the Senior Olympics and his North Carolina based team brought home the Silver Medal for their efforts.

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