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Craft knows how to create outstanding basketball players

Freda Craft is bringing a total package to Brookhaven HighSchool. Besides outstanding basketball coaching credentials, Craftpreaches academic excellence in the the class room. She has amaster’s degree in biology.

Brookhaven Superintendent of Education Lea Barrett believes theyhave found a gem to replace Billy Holmes who has retired after fouryears at the helm. Holmes, 65, had come out of retirement to coachthe Lady Panthers.

“Coach Craft has a great outlook about academics and athletics,”said Barrett. “She values academics. I believe in the importance ofacademics and education.”

Certainly, Craft’s expertise is coaching girls basketball. HerHazlehurst and South Pike teams played tough, aggressive defense.They could all run and shoot, plus rebound.

Barrett said Craft has another plus. “She’s a life-long learner.She will work with the programs at Alexander (Junior High) andLipsey (Middle School).

“Coach Craft isn’t here just to build a basketball program,”Barrett. “She believes in growing the total student.”

Craft, 50, is a 1973 Hazlehurst High School graduate. She played inthe Mississippi Association of Coaches High School All-Star Gamethat summer. She earned a basketball scholarship to MississippiCollege where she starred as a 5-foot-10 post player.

Currently, she is continuing her education at MC, taking a coursein educational leadership.

“I believe you have to be a well-rounded person, not justacademics,” said Craft.

Craft’s latest Hazlehurst edition reached the semifinals of theClass 3A state tournament. The Lady Indians lost to powerhouseChoctaw Central. Most teams lose to Choctaw Central.

During the 2005-06 basketball campaign, Hazlehurst playedBrookhaven twice. The Lady Indians prevailed 45-33 in the Ole BrookClassic on Nov. 5. They were 49-35 winners at Hazlehurst on Jan.3.

Two potential all-American post players, 6-2 Nikki Byrd and 6-1Swayze Black, helped put Brookhaven back in the state tournament assophomores. They are among four legitimate post playersreturning.

How well the younger guards develop, especially at point guard,will determine Ole Brook’s success level in 2006-07. If they canget the ball down the floor to either Byrd, Black, Whitley Shannonor Katie Mackabee, look out.

“Byrd and Black are outstanding players,” said Craft. “They areraw. They have outstanding potential.”

This season the Lady Panthers made their first state tournamentappearance since 1997. You could finally see some enthusiasm andfire in their eyes, especially in February. They caught theattention of the state-wide media when they finished a close secondto Wayne County in the South State 4A Tournament at Waynesboro.Wayne County wound up winning it all.

Craft likes to promote her program, so ticket sales should climb.It was a difficult year (6-25) for the Ole Brook boys andattendance took a decided dip.

Looking ahead, the Lady Panthers have the potential to win a statechampionship. Everything hinges on the development of the youngguards. They must be able to handle full-court pressure.

When Craft left Hazlehurst the first time in 1997, her Indians werestate runners-up to Senatobia. The next season, her successor, LisaPowell, won the state title, beating Yazoo County.

Certainly, the future looks bright for Craft and her new squad.It’s a matter of team chemistry, and Craft is an expert inbiology.

Ring Update: Anxiously awaiting the arrival oftheir football championship rings is the 2005 Hazlehurst footballteam. The Indians climaxed a perfect (13-0) campaign by defeatingCharleston 14-0 in the title game. According to Hazlehurst athleticdirector Gary Tabor, the rings should arrive April 28. That’stomorrow.

Alabama freshman Jimmy Johns was named the MostImproved Offensive Back during A-Day festivities in Tuscaloosa.Johns, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s 2004 Prep Player of theYear.

For sure, the Crimson Tide should have an awesome rushing attack in2006. Quarterback is the big question mark and Johns can play thatposition, too.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or e-mailsports@dailyleader.com