April 14, 2018 7:30:50 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Domination just might be a trigger word for Tyler Stevenson
Drew McBrayer didn't know it when he told his then-rising senior guard/forward to "dominate" at a Magnolia Hoops showcase in Meridian with some of the top players in the state of Mississippi.
McBrayer wanted Stevenson to assert himself at the event prior to the summer basketball season because he knew the 6-foot-7 ½ swingman would be counted on to lead the New Hope High School boys basketball team in 2017-18.
The Stevenson who returned to Columbus was ready to dominate.
"I knew I had to go in and dominate that showcase," Stevenson said. "It was a chance to show my talents because there were some coaches there. My confidence level was high. I went in with the mind-set that no one was going to stop me from doing what I was going to do."
Very few people have stopped Stevenson since then. Stevenson's maturation into a team leader was a key in New Hope High's run to the semifinals of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 4A State tournament. On Friday, Stevenson realized the benefit from his hard work when he signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Southern Mississippi. Last week, Stevenson announced on Twitter he had committed to Southern Miss.
"I just knew I had to work hard and put in the work," Stevenson said. "I knew coach was counting on me and he put his trust into me. With that in mind, I had to go in and work and show people what I could do and just play my game."
New Hope High boys basketball coach Drew McBrayer, who has been back at the school since the 2006-07 season, has seen a lot of talented basketball players. He said Friday he hasn't seen a player make as big of a jump from one season to the next as Stevenson.
"The ability was always there," McBrayer said. "His mind-set was the biggest thing to me. Once he got the confidence early in the year, it just snowballed."
McBrayer points to the event in Meridian as the beginning. He said he could see a change in Stevenson's confidence when he returned and told him he did well at the showcase. Stevenson's confidence blossomed during the summer on the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit and soared during the high school season. McBrayer said there were plenty of times Stevenson took over games, like when he scored 21 of the team's 24 first-half points en route to a 44-point showing against Leake Central.
Stevenson had some of his best games in the MHSAA Class 4A State tournament. In a victory against Lanier in the quarterfinals, Stevenson had 23 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocked shots. In a state tournament semifinal loss to Corinth, Stevenson had 30 points, eight rebounds, and a blocked shot. Stevenson scored all 17 of New Hope's points in the fourth quarter, but the Trojans couldn't convert chances to cut deeper into the lead and saw their season end at 23-8.
McBrayer hopes Stevenson carries that confidence to Southern Miss. He acknowledged it is tough at first for players jumping to Division I basketball and that there will be times when Stevenson's confidence is tested, but he said Stevenson can rely on the knowledge he can rise above that and shine.
McBrayer points to last December when he recalls telling people to watch out for Stevenson because he saw things coming together for him. He said he felt Stevenson was growing more comfortable in his bigger frame and was settling in as a team leader. The Trojans continued to climb higher as Stevenson took his game to another level. McBrayer believes the ability to do that will help Stevenson, who last month played in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star game, at Southern Miss.
"What he did this year mentally I think makes him more prepared than other kids," McBrayer said.
Stevenson said it is satisfying to go from someone who called himself "underrated" earlier in the season to a Division I signee. He said it always has been his goal to play Division I basketball.
"I just tried to work hard to complete goal," Stevenson said. "There were times in the ninth grade when I kind of doubted myself, but I started working hard and my confidence level rose and I started to think I could do this and complete my goal. Now I have done it with all of my hard work."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.