STARKVILLE — Successful basketball teams excel when players perform their roles.
Sometimes the same can be said about families.
In the case of the Starkville High School boys basketball team’s Mike and Steve Brand, each knows one the other quite well, and the brothers complement each other quite well on and off the court.
“I am the talkative one,” Mike Brand said. “I am … well let’s say, very outgoing. Sometimes, it takes Steve a little while to open up. I usually lead the conversation.”
Steve Brand agrees. However, he does it in fewer words. Both say that the opportunity to play together and to play for another state championship has made for quite an amazing run.
“It has always been a lot of fun to play with him,” said the 6-foot-2 Steve. “We have done this forever, since we first starting shooting on the playground together. To be able to share this experience with him has been great. I am appreciative for what we have gone through together.”
Starkville (26-4) will face Wayne County (30-1) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. The winner will face Callaway or Pascagoula at 2:30 p.m. March 3 in the state championship game.
“We are excited to go back,” said the 5-9 Mike. “Since this is our senior year, we are going back with a purpose. We are mentally focused and mentally prepared for the challenge ahead. If we play like a team and play like we are supposed to, we will win this thing.
Starkville lost to Meridian in the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament last season. Starkville is back in Jackson for a third straight season, after capturing the school’s second basketball state championship in 2010.
“I have been amped up all week,” Steve Brand said. “We have been practicing hard. The main thing is defending and rebounding. We have worked very hard on those aspects of the game. Last season, we took for granted going to the Big House.
“This year, it is a different focus and a different mind-set. We know what we still have left to do to close the deal.”
The Yellow Jackets will trot out a battle-tested senior-dominated lineup. The Brands play the two wing spots and will be joined in the starting lineup by Jacolby Mobley at point guard, Tory Rice at power forward, and Mississippi State University signee Gavin Ware at center.
When you reach the state semifinals, all teams are good. The ability to make shots and play together as a unit are the keys to success, according to Starkville coach Greg Carter.
“All coaches want chemistry,” Carter said. “You have to have a connection with one another on the court. The neat thing about having Steve and Mike out there is they are always on the same page, so you got 40 percent locked into one another right away.
“We have a strong team camaraderie. The guys work well together and play well together. Our attitude is very good. When everybody is contributing and playing their role on this team, we can be very dangerous.”
For the Brands, the chemistry started early in life. Mike is older by about 10 months.
“I usually take the lead,” Mike said. “I guess it has been that way from the beginning. We have played so many games of one-on-one. It has always been a deal where I push him and he pushes me. He knows how to lift me and I try to do the same for him.
“We have played with each other for so long, that it helps out on the court as well. I know what he is going to do. I know where he is going to catch the ball. He knows the same things about me. It makes for a really good chemistry on the court.”
Steve said while their games are similar, each one brings a different set of qualities to the table.
“He is probably more the aggressor,” Steve said. “He will go out and take some things. We both have a good work ethic. The thing is there is no slacking off in our games. He won’t let me take plays off, and I am the same way with him.”
For Starkville, all-out effort will be a necessity if the squad is to get past Wayne County and then Callaway or Pascagoula in the state title game. Starkville avenged a regular-season loss to Provine in the semifinals of the North State playoffs.
“We have to play two more times like we did against Provine,” Mike said. “That game was personal since we lost to them in the regular season. We came out really focused and defended really hard. We made some shots early and things just rolled from there.
“We didn’t play as well Saturday night (in a 59-48 North State championship loss to Callaway). We have a good challenge ahead of us because Wayne County has several talented players. We have to play more as a unit. Each of us has to chip in the rebounding. We have to have a little more effort on both offense and defense.
“Against Provine, we played every possession like we wanted to win badly. We have to have that same mindset when we go to Jackson.”
Starkville has played with an aggressive mentality all season. The preseason No. 1 team in the state, Starkville enters the semifinals third in the state, while Wayne County is No. 1.
“We have to be the aggressor,” Carter said. “That is our mind-set. We have to be defensive and we have to speed Wayne County up. They will try to trap us. We can’t sit back. We have to attack. It starts with our guards.
“I know Jacolby, Steve, and Mike will be ready to take that challenge heads on.”
For the Brands, the opportunity to add another gold ball to the trophy case would be a great way to end their prep careers. However, the brothers don’t plan to stop hooping it up together after that.
“This has been a blessing,” Mike Brand said. “Not a lot of people get to play with their brothers, especially with each of us being in the same grade. But, we are not planning on stopping here. I hope to play with him in junior college or senior college after this. It has been an incredible ride. We do everything together. Even though we are different, our games are really the same.
“We don’t want to stop playing together now.”
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.