School hours are spent getting the education needed to be successful in life. On the basketball court, North Sunflower coaches are working hard to educate as well. From junior high to high school, both the boys’ and girls’ teams are young and inexperienced. Coaches Jimmy McGregor (girls) and Essie Thomas (boys) haven’t seen much success on the scoreboard but are working on building a winning foundation.
Coach McGregor has been on the hardwood for decades teaching young women how to play the game. The Indianola resident is in his first year at NSA and he’s looking to impart every bit of wisdom he’s got to make them better.
“We’ve got two players, sophomore Samantha Barham and junior Jenny Hewitt, who are the only two that have played at North Sunflower. It’s a rebuilding year,” Coach McGregor said. “We’ve got two seniors coming out who have never played to help them – Mary Neal Kimbrell and McKaylen Clem. We moved up seventh, eighth and ninth graders to help us have a varsity team.”
There’s nine players on his high school roster and 12 on his JV roster.
The coach has been working on implementing basic offense and defense with a big dose of fundamentals.
“This is the most inexperienced team I’ve ever coached,” Coach McGregor said. “We keep the kids positive and practice and we’re trying to get a system going where they go to camps in the summer. We’ve got a great bunch of kids and all I can do is ask them to play hard. We play a 2-3 zone and a 2-1-2. We have to slow it down and do what we can to compete. On offense, we have a three-guard front and a zone and three-guard front on man. We mix it up the best we can.”
The first game of the season was cancelled due to bad weather but then the Lady Rebels varsity fell to Humphreys, 58-7 but the JV won 20-15. They also took on Deer Creek with both teams coming out on the losing end, varsity 36-7 and JV 33-9.
“We’re real inexperienced in both boys and girls. Now in the JV win over Humphreys, Rihanna Love scored 15 points, Kaitlyn Smither had three and Hollie Clem added two points,” Coach McGregor said.
In the varsity loss to Humphreys, Barham scored four points while Love added three. This past Tuesday, the JV lost to Lee Academy from Arkansas, 36-4 and the varsity fell 46-4.
On the boy’s side, Coach Thomas moves from assistant to the head coach slot with plenty of plans to improve the hardwood Rebels. The South Panola graduate, Batesville native and Delta State alumnus has a bit more experience to work with on her side of court.
“Junior high we’ve got 14 boys and high school we’ve got eight. I bring up three from the junior high to the high school,” Coach Thomas said.
Coach Thomas’ Rebels will resemble Nolan Richardson’s “Forty Minutes of Hell” teams from the 1990s with plenty of full-court pressure. And she’ll use that to build an offensive attack.
“My defense is simple – its run and gun and we run a 13 defense which requires them to be very agile and mobile. My boys are in shape this year,” Coach Thomas said. “We don’t want to rush any shots and we want to take our time on offense and take what the defense gives up.”
Her junior high team will be a full game press team and she’s sculpting her high school team to be the same but they are all in “football shape” at the moment and not basketball shape. The team hasn’t shown much success on the final scoreboard just yet.
“Our junior high boys had some mental mistakes at Deer Creek. That was supposed to be our game. We didn’t come out with the win and were very disappointed about that,” she said. “Key players in that game were Landon Knight, Brandon Daniel and Michael Morris. Those were the three I moved up to high school.”
The team has three seniors, Parker Beck, Dakota Dawson and Chandler Hays. Junior Jacob Henley hit three-three pointers against Deer Creek in the 14-point loss according to Coach Thomas.
“They were mentally and physically fatigued because they just got out of football,” Coach Thomas said. “I’ve got an abundance of talent though.”
On Tuesday night, the varsity team lost 64-62 to Lee (Ark.) and the junior high team fell 55-23. No other scores were available at press time.
The teams travel to Oxford today to take on Regents Academy for their first conference action beginning at 4:00 p.m.