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Lincoln County connection at Miss. College

CLINTON – Former basketball standouts from Enterprise, WestLincoln, Brookhaven and Brookhaven Academy showcased theirbasketball skills Monday night. Nope. It wasn’t a Copiah-LincolnCommunity College game. This time it was Mississippi College.

Both MC basketball teams are flying high as the season windsdown and the American Southwest Conference Tournament approaches.Choctaw fans can smile with satisfaction and know their basketballprogram is in good hands. Brookhaven native Don Lofton is directingthe men’s team (12-5, 3-1 (ASC East Division) and Paul Allen Dukeis in charge of the women’s team (13-3, 4-0 ASC East).

Good basketball players, lots of them, have made this anotheroutstanding campaign for the Chocs and Lady Chocs. The NCAADivision III program also promotes academics ahead ofathletics.

Speaking of athletes, the women’s team features senior guardRusti Smith of West Lincoln, sophomore guard Katie Newman ofBrookhaven Academy and freshman forward Lacey Palomarez ofEnterprise, the team’s leading scorer.

Palomarez, listed at 5-11 in the program, poured in 35 pointsMonday night as the Lady Chocs whipped Louisiana College 85-59.Playing the high post and the low post in 35 minutes of action, shemade 15 of 20 field goal attempts and 5 of 6 free throws.

For the season, Palomarez entered last night’s game averaging18.2 points per game. As a senior at Enterprise, she was selectedTHE DAILY LEADER’s All-Lincoln County Player of the Year.Obviously, Miss Basketball has lived up to all expectations andthen some.

“Lacey fits our system like a T,” said Coach Duke. “It’s ahigh-low passing game. She faces the basket and plays with her backto the basket.”

Duke said Palomarez has worked hard to learn the post game. As aprep star, she often stepped to the outside and lit it up from3-point range.

“I have a great coach and we have similar personalities,” saidPalomarez. “I love MC. I couldn’t’ have made a betterdecision.”

Duke is an intense, animated coach on the sidelines, pacing andbellowing instructions to his players. Palomarez competes fiercely.She doesn’t hesitate to make the open pass and assist a teammatewith a score.

Smith played two years at Co-Lin and transferred to MC. She wasa starter as a junior but has taken a top sub role this season,working at second guard. She is the only senior on the youth-ladensquad, that features three freshman starters, one sophomore and onejunior.

“We have a fine group,” said Smith. “We have improved a lot.”She shares the MC program cover with Coach Duke.

Smith, like Newman and Palomarez, earned Miss Basketball honorsin Lincoln County. She is majoring in teaching and coaching.

Asked about this reunion of All-Lincoln Countians, Smith said,”It was destiny that we would play together.”

“Rusti has taken on another role,” said Duke. “She’s a teamleader and we really need her down the stretch.”

Newman, the reigning Miss Hospitality in Mississippi, hasdisplayed amazing toughness at point guard. Although she wentscoreless last night, she made 5 assists in 12 minutes of playingtime.

“We are a real close team,” said Newman. “It is a greatatmosphere at MC.”

Looking ahead to the ASC Tournament, Newman said the Lady Chocswant to avenge their road loss (75-56) to Hardin-Simmons atAbilene, Texas. “Write it down. We will beat Hardin-Simmons.”

Duke said Newman is an intense competitor. “You could hit her inthe mouth 100 times and she still would bounce right back. Sheplays with heart and has a no-quit attitude.”

The Choctaws sparkled on defense in the first half againstLouisiana College and then withstood a strong comeback by theWildcats. Chad Smith and B.J. Black, juniors from BrookhavenAcademy and Brookhaven respectively, by way of Co-Lin, contributedto the win.

Smith left skin on the floor several times as he dove for loosebasketballs and made driving layups. He finished with 11 points and2 assists in the 83-74 triumph. He limped out of the trainer’s roomafter the game.

“I got kicked in the shin,” said Smith, smiling. “I’m having funup here. The offense is more structured and slowed down; like whatI played at Brookhaven Academy. In junior college, the game is alot faster and the players are very athletic.”

Lofton said Smith is “a total player for us. He plays both endsof the floor and gives a total effort. He got a lot of goodexperience at Co-Lin.”

Black, at 6-foot-5, has the powerful physique of a linebacker.He specialized in basketball at BHS and was a force in the paint atCo-Lin. He has been slowed by a knee injury.

Last night he scored 2 points and had 2 rebounds in 10 minutesof action.

“B.J. is a wonderful kid,” said Lofton. “He had some injurieswhich slowed him down. He has picked up our system now so we areexpecting big things from him the rest of the year.

“We are tickled to get Chad and B.J. from Co-Lin,” added Lofton.”They are both good players.”

Black complimented his teammate. “Chad is doing a wonderful jobfor MC. It’s a step up from last year. This is a good place to getan education.”

Asked about the Chocs’ chances the rest of the season, Blacksaid, “We must keep playing hard and playing together. Winningmakes life a lot easer.”

Winning appears to be a way of life for MC basketball.