Grand Slam gives basketball fans something extra

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2007

Wake up the echoes and rekindle the memories.

The high school Grand Slam Basketball Tournament is returningand it’s being played in Northeast Mississippi. The revival,promoted by the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau, will beplayed at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, March 15-17.

The Grand Slam will feature the five girls and five boys statetournament champions from the previous week’s action which willconclude at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. It should be a funevent in what many people consider the hotbed of basketball.

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There will be a blind draw to determine the pairings. The firstround, March 15, will feature two play-in games. It could be Class5A versus Class 1A. Semifinals are March 16 and the finals areMarch 17.

Neal McCoy, the TCVB’s director of sports development, lobbiedthe Mississippi High School Activities Association for the right tohost the event. It’s a 1-year contract.

“Obviously, we felt like we could do a great job,” said McCoy.”We have a great venue and wonderful support for basketball.”

Most high school coaches are enthused about the new event. Somecoaches south of Jackson would like to see the Grand Slamalternating between a north and south location. Perhaps SouthernMiss in Hattiesburg or the Gulf Coast Coliseum in Biloxi could bealternative locations.

Apparently, one reason the MHSAA discontinued the Grand Slam in1982 was because a lot of coaches thought it minimized theimportance of winning a state championship. I remember Coach BertJenkins of powerhouse Gulfport remarking that some smaller schoolswould be embarrassed in the overall tourney, taking a lot of lusteroff their state championship.

On the other hand, basketball is a great equalizer. If a coachhas five or six good basketball players on his team, they cancompete in any classification. Class 1A Ingomar won the overalltitle in 1978 when former Southern Miss coach James Green playedfor the Falcons. He was a skinny center who could rebound with thebest.

If you enjoy basketball history, consider the West Lincoln Bearswho won back-to-back Class B (1A) titles in 1981 and ’82. They lostto Class AA (5A) champion Forest Hill 69-59 in the ’81 overallfinals. Forest Hill was under the direction of Coach Shelby Watts,a Lincoln County product who played for Loyd Star.

Once upon a time in Mississippi, the Overall State BasketballTournament was a hot item. Sponsored by the Mississippi High SchoolActivities Association, the Overall was played around the secondweek of March. The redbud trees were starting to bloom and so werethe dogwoods. The wild plum and pear trees growing along I-55 werealready bursting with white blooms.

This column hopes the Grand Slam is a rousing, financialsuccess.

In case you’ve forgotten, Southwest Mississippi, especiallyLincoln County, used to be considered a boys basketball hotbed.Unfortunately, the roundball sport has sank to a new low in manyarea schools. Instead, most of the male talent is found either onthe football field, the baseball diamond or driving pickup truckson Brookway Boulevard. Vehicles, gasoline and tires are provided bydoting parents who want the best for their children.

Retired West Lincoln basketball coach Jack Case made a wiseobservation last week during a brief visit. “You don’t see kidsoutside shooting at basketball goals anymore, like you used to.They’d rather be doing something else.”

Certainly, there are more distractions. Besides BrookwayBoulevard, there are gazillion video games available. Instead ofshooting hoops in the blazing summer heat, it’s a lot morecomfortable for a youngster, just sitting under an air conditionerexercising his/her thumbs as they fiddle with the latest i-Pod.

The Brookhaven Classic is set for Saturday inSinclair Gymnasium. Five games are scheduled, including a showdownbetween the Brookhaven and Murrah girls at 7 p.m.

Other Classic games include Loyd Star versus the South Pikegirls at 2:30, Ridgeland vs. the Loyd Star boys at 4, Raleigh vs.the South Pike boys at 5:30 and Brookhaven vs. the Murrah boys at8:30.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39602 or