Black, Byrd pool basketball skills for All-Star test

Published 5:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2008

Swayze Black and Nikki Byrd have been teammates since juniorhigh. The two talented Brookhaven seniors, also known as the TwinTowers, have one more game together, the 18th annualMississippi/Alabama Basketball Classic. The games are on tap todayat the Pelham (Ala.) Civic Complex, located in suburban Birmingham.The girls tip it off at 5 p.m., followed by the all-star boys at7.

The Mississippi girls are under the direction of three coaches.Joe Miller of Class 3A state champion Southeast Lauderdale is thehead coach. Bill Russell of Class 4A Pontotoc is the designatedassistant coach. Donny Fuller of Class 5A Warren Central is theadministrative coach.

Certainly, the coaching staff has an outstanding group of youngladies to work with. Black (6-3, 165) and LaSondra Barrett (6-0,165) of Jackson Murrah are LSU signees. Byrd (6-2, 180) has signedwith Ole Miss.

Ashley Daniels (6-1, n/a) of Coldwater, has signed withArkansas. Tiara Logan (5-7, 140) of Philadelphia and Lucy Ruffin(5-1, 137) of Southeast Lauderdale have signed with Shelton StateCommunity College. Also on the squad are Danielle Cole (5-8, 145)of Philadelphia, Jamie Gunter (5-10, 140) of Columbus, Martika Ivy(5-11, 142) of Southeast Lauderdale, D’Amber Johnson (5-7, 125) ofPontotoc, Kayla Robinson (6-1, 150) of Raymond and Veronica Walker(6-0, 170) of Indianola Gentry.

A key figure absent from the team is 6-foot guard April Sykes ofEast Oktibbeha. Selected to play in the McDonald’s All-AmericanGame, Sykes also had a prior commitment to another all-star game.Too bad. She is Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year and arare talent.

Sykes left a lasting impression on Lincoln County basketballfans when she and her Lady Titan teammates won the South State 1ATournament held at West Lincoln a month ago. She is a giftedpasser, ball-handler and shooter. Many of her bullet passes bouncedoff either the hands or heads of her teammates.

Sykes has signed with Rutgers University of New Jersey. Hersmiling face and pleasant personality will be a bonus for Rutgers,recognized as a national powerhouse. Rutgers was runner-up toTennessee’s Lady Vols in last year’s NCAA title game.

Black and Byrd were instrumental in Brookhaven’s high level ofsuccess on the basketball floor. They were Class 4A statesemifinalists this season, losing an overtime thriller to IndianolaGentry, in a rematch of last year’s state championship game. TheLady Panthers (31-7) also lost to Gentry in the state semifinalswhen Black and Byrd were sophomores.

Gentry is recognized nationally for its basketball success. TheLady Rams have won 80 straight games under the guidance of CoachCharles Williams. They own the nation’s longest winning streak,too, and are fresh from beating Murrah’s Lady Mustangs indouble-overtime for the Grand Slam at Tupelo.

Ole Brook head coach Freda Craft was making the drive to Pelhamtoday to see her two star players perform. In the future Craft willhave to travel to either Oxford or Baton Rouge to seem them play.However, many of LSU’s games are televised because the Lady Tigersare nationally ranked and title contenders.

Meanwhile, the Mississippi boys are under the direction ofOxford’s Drew Tyler. Designated assistant coach is Summit nativeDellie Robinson of Vicksburg. Luther Riley of Class 5A statechampion Jackson Provine is the administrative coach.

Playing for the Mississippi team are Kenneth Barlow (6-4, 192)of Scott Central, Terry Church (6-1, 180) of Jackson Lanier,Brandon Fortenberry (6-2, 175) of Picayune, Justin Gillard (6-2,165) of Oxford, Antonio Grace (5-8, 150) of Newton, ScottieHaralson (6-5, 215) of Provine, Rashanti Harris (6-10, 245) andDale Hughes (6-2, 185) of New Hope, Falando Jones (6-4, 208) ofGreenwood, Romero Osby (6-8, 230) of Northeast Lauderdale, ChrisWallace (6-3, 195) of Jackson Wingfield and Latavious Williams(6-8, 200) of Starkville.

The players and coaches departed Tuesday for Pelham. Theyhaven’t had much time to prepare for the game but the high talentlevel should make for an entertaining night of basketball.

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