Starkville’s Atavius Jones (32) moves past Center Hill Kaeden Laws (24) in the paint. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
December 27, 2017 9:48:43 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School boys basketball coach Greg Carter consistently fields one of the best teams in the state of Mississippi.
Playing in the state's highest classification (Class 6A), the Yellow Jackets typically aren't fazed when they have to play without key players who are with the school's football team in the postseason. However, Carter's elite teams have relied on a few players from the football field to help them get over the top.
Junior Atavius Jones is filling that bill this season.
Jones had 21 points and 14 rebounds Tuesday afternoon in Starkville's 79-50 rout of Center Hill on the opening day of the Travis Outlaw Slam Dunk at the Hump holiday tournament at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I love coming off the bench," Jones said. "It gives me a chance to see what the other team is doing well. I know some of the
challenges we face. Then, I get on the court and go to work helping my team get right. It's exciting. I really like this role."
The Yellow Jackets (9-3) made quick work of the Class 5A Mustangs (12-3) in what had been built as a matchup between two finesse teams expecting to contend for championships.
Instead, Jones left the bench late in the first quarter and played a key role in a 14-0 run that helped Starkville pull away early in the second quarter and cruise to the victory.
"We were not rebounding well," Carter said. "(Jones) came in and pretty much started getting everything that wasn't nailed down. He just got rebound after rebound after rebound. The other guys see this hard work and this hustle. (Jones) just blocked up the lane and really got us going."
Starkville has been one of the biggest mysteries in the early stages of this season. After riding Tyson Carter to a pair of state championship game appearances, the Yellow Jackets relied on depth and unusual length to make another deep run last season.
This year, Starkville enters the final day of the event with an impressive resume, including a convincing victory against nemesis Tupelo and a two-game split with Class 6A heavyweight Columbus. The Yellow Jackets are young in spots but learning how to play as a team.
"This team is just beginning to find its stride," Jones said. "We have a lot of potential. I am just not in basketball shape yet. It's rough when football goes this late, but we are getting there. Every day in practice, every day in games, it's getting better. When we get set for region play, everybody is going to be ready to go."
Carter has built his championship program on defense.
During the run that determined the outcome, everybody was involved. Donte Powers had a blocked shot. Natrone Brooks, who also was a member of the football team that advanced to the Class 6A State title game, had a steal and an easy transition basket. Jones stood in the back of the lane and barked out instructions to almost every teammate.
"Our communication is great," Carter said. "If we can continue to score the basketball at a good pace, we have a chance to be successful. Defensively, we aren't where we want to be, but we are continuing to improve. Would like to see some more intensity to start games."
Blake Rogers added 17 points and Jordan Temple 12 points for the Yellow Jackets. Kevin Henry led Center Hill with 17.
n Starkville girls 62, Center Hill 30: The Lady Jackets cruised in their first game of the tournament.
"We started out strong," Starkville coach Kristie Williams said. "The last couple of games we had come out sluggish. I thought we didn't do that in this game. We set the tone early. We were able to dictate the flow of the game. I liked how we played with energy and how we started fast."
Starkville used a 12-2 run, thanks in large part to defensive pressure, to build a 35-14 lead at halftime.
"We had good balance and we got some easy baskets in transition," Williams said. "We are working on becoming more consistent going into region play."
For Starkville (12-1), Jalisa Outlaw scored 19 points, followed by Tabreea Gandy with 12 and Jariyah Covington with 10.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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