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Smith’s Raiders enter Big Dance

They’re baaaaack. Coach Stephany Smith and the Middle TennesseeState University Lady Blue Raiders are returning to the Big Danceafter a 6-year absence. For Smith and all of her family inBrookhaven, it’s a proud, happy day.

Smith’s MTSU squad captured the Sun Belt Tournament title and anautomatic berth in the NCAA showcase which tips off this weekend.Her team, seeded No. 13 out of the East, will face powerhouse NorthCarolina Sunday in South Bend, Ind.

“Right now, everybody is just excited,” said Smith after lastSunday’s selection show on ESPN. “We had known for almost a weekthat our name was going to roll across the screen at some point inthe selection show. But to finally view it in such a capacity andhave such a crowd was just really an amazing event.”

Smith’s team had gathered at Corky’s Bar-B-Que in Murfreesborofor the afternoon selection show. Blue Raider fans filled therestaurant to fire marshal capacity.

“North Carolina has one of the most storied programs as far asDivision I basketball,” Smith pointed out. “They take away ourmatch up as far as athleticism because North Carolina is one of themost athletic teams in women’s basketball.

“So we don’t have an edge with our athleticism,” she continued.”But I don’t think we are just a bunch of athletes. We are solidand intelligent basketball players. As long as we play as well aswe did in the Sun Belt tournament and build on that, I think wehave a chance.”

This is Smith’s 11th season at MTSU, her seventh as head coach.She has compiled an overall record of 128-78. This is her first20-win (23-7) campaign. The Lady Raiders whipped Western Kentucky79-57 in the Sun Belt championship game.

In 1998-99, Smith won the Ohio Valley Conference championshipand qualified for the NCAA. She served four years as an assistantto Lewis Bivens before her promotion.

Leading the Lady Blue Raiders is Patrice Holmes, a 5-9 juniorguard and 2-time Sun Belt Tournament MVP. She averages 15.8 pointsper game.

Other stars for MTSU are Tia Stovall, a 6-1 sophomore forward;and Keisha McClinic, a 5-10 senior guard who was selected SBCDefensive Player of the Year.

Smith played for Copiah-Lincoln Community College and HardingUniversity in Searcy, Ark., where she spent one year as anassistant coach.

A people-oriented person, she has planned and directed numerousnonprofit clinics at MTSU. She has one of the most successfulbasketball camps, “Stars of Tomorrow,” each summer.

Her proud parents are Betsy and Ralph “Catfish” Smith. Stephanyhas three brothers, Ralph, Richard and Cameron, and a sister,Sydney.

Britt to coach South all-stars

Veteran basketball coach Gene “Moochie” Britt has been chosen tocoach the South boys in the Mississippi Association of CoachesAll-Star Basketball Game this summer. Britt has the distinction ofcoaching in both the private and public school all-star games. Hewon an MPSA Overall girls tournament title in 1983 at BrookhavenAcademy.

Helping Britt coach the South boys is Tony Moody ofColumbia.

The MAC has initiated a new format for the July 15 all-starshowcase at Mississippi College in Clinton. They have decided touse juniors/rising seniors instead of graduated seniors. The MACcites a lack of interest and participation under the oldformat.

Juniors David Clark and Justin Lewis, both 6-foot-5 standoutsfrom Lawrence County, have been named to the South roster.

Unfortunately, seniors like guard Jared Britt of Loyd Star areleft out in the cold if they don’t make the Mississippi/Alabamarosters which are also selected by the MAC. I’m positive Brittwould have showed up for the old format game.

Britt, a standout southpaw pitcher, probably will be selected toplay in the Crossroads Diamond Club’s All-Star Baseball game thissummer.

Coaching the South girls are John Stephens of North Pike andWalter Wilson of Choctaw Central. Area juniors selected to play inthe dream game are Britta Stephens of North Pike and Brittany Fultzof South Pike.

We were flabbergasted when the announcement was made that Big AlJefferson of Prentiss was omitted from the Mississippi All-Starroster. Jefferson, expected to make the leap straight to the NBA inJune, was not nominated by Prentiss coach Lonnie McLemore who isnot an MAC member. At 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Jefferson averaged42.6 points per game, including a career-high 66 against Collins inthe South Class 3A playoffs.

According to Johnny Mims, the MAC’s executive director,Jefferson was a prize that wasn’t overlooked. A nomination form wasnever submitted.

Duh.

Jefferson, The DAILY LEADER’s All-Area Player of the Year as ajunior, is expected to play in the McDonald’s All-Star Classic,March 31, at Oklahoma City, the Nike Hoop Summit on April 4 at SanAntonio and the Jordan Capital Classic on April 1, at College Park,Md.

Congratulations: West Lincoln sophomore guardErica Shaw and junior forward Alicia Kennedy were named to theClass 1A All-State Tournament Girls Team after leading the LadyBears to the semifinals.