WEST POINT — West Point High School senior Ecurb Forest joins his classmates in anticipating prom and graduation.
However, Forest has been contemplating an inexpensive night for the prom.
“May just take my basketball as my date,” Forest said. “Basketball has been my life, so most people would think that is appropriate.”
Forest has been a shining star as coach Brad Cox has rebuilt the Green Wave program. Finding success at a football school, Forest and the Green Wave won a region championship last season and advanced to the postseason this season for a second-straight year.
With a team-high 17 points per game average, the 5-foot-10 guard is The Dispatch’s Large School Boys Basketball Co-Player of the Year. He shares the honor with Starkville High junior guard Tyson Carter.
Forest also averaged four assists and seven rebounds per game for the Green Wave (16-15). West Point saw its season end in a first-round playoff loss to Neshoba Central in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A playoffs.
“Ecurb is a tremendous basketball player, but better than that, he is a great student and a great person,” Cox said. “He was our undisputed leader. He was our leading scorer, and despite the fact that other teams would specifically design a plan to stop him, he would still get his points.”
In seven seasons as coach, Cox has worked hard to get the West Point basketball program out of the shadow of the tradition-rich football program. It has taken a combination of nurturing basketball players while teaching the nuances of the game to some freakish athletes.
After winning 25 games and the school’s first region championship in 25 years last season, the challenge was to build on that success this season. On a team with few seniors, the Green Wave needed Forest to produce points and leadership.
“We had some ups and downs, but overall we did well,” Forest said. “A lot of people didn’t expect us in the playoffs, but we were able to prove them wrong in the end. We could have done better, but almost every team says they could have done better when the season ends.
“My role was well defined. I had to be the leader. It was an opportunity I was excited about. I tried to be the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. There were a lot of days that coach and me were the only two people here.”
When Forest’s junior season ended with a home loss to eventual state champion Callaway in the playoffs, Cox sat down and had a visit with his sharp shooter. Cox told Forest that his leadership would be needed for the team to achieve similar success in his senior season.
While Cox’s encouragement was nice to hear, the message had already been delivered by then-senior Juan Davis. Now playing at East Mississippi Community College, Davis encouraged Forest to take his game to the next level this season.
“I learned so much from the seniors on that team,” Forest said. “We really had a team built for Jackson even though we didn’t get there. Those guys on that team meant a lot to me. However, I was probably closer to Juan than anybody else. He stayed on me all the time and encouraged me.
“We were getting ready for the playoffs and he told me that next year’s team would be mine. He told me they would go as far as I carried them. For a senior to have that kind of confidence in me was really encouraging. It meant a lot.”
Forest has had encouragement from many places throughout his standout career. Parents Bruce and Lynn have always been there, as well as sister September Cousins. Bruce Forest put a basketball in his son’s hand at a very early age. The love affair happened quickly.
“My family has always been supportive,” Forest said. “Since I was a little kid, they pushed me into sports and supported everything I wanted to do. They always checked on the group of guys I hung out with and made sure I was doing the right thing.
“I started playing when I was around six. I watched my dad play and I wanted to be like him.”
When he arrived at West Point High, Forest played football and basketball and ran track. His first two years at the school, he also played on Cox’s golf team.
“Coach Cox was a great coach,” Forest said. “He always wanted the best for all of his players. I learned how to be a better player, but I also learned how to become a better person. The overall experience was a lot of fun. We really brought people out to the games and tried to keep them entertained. It has always been about football here, but we also helped make basketball special.”
Fellow senior Dason Thomas marveled at Forest’s ability to take a game over.
“At any point in time, he could change an entire game,” Thomas said. “Whether he was making shots or missing shots, Ecurb never changed. He was always a steadying force for the team. It was on the seniors to help lead the team this year. You always knew you could count on Ecurb.”
Cox knew the leadership would shine through in the proper setting.
“Ecurb comes from a great, supportive family,” Cox said. “You knew early he was going to be special. He was always working hard. He was also trying to find ways to make his game better. He would always ask what he could to do to get better. He set a great example for the other players in our program.”
A pure shooter is an asset in Cox’s system. West Point plays up-tempo and likes to take as many shots in transition as possible. The Green Wave pay attention to defense, but sometimes that is lost in the flurry of fast breaks and shot attempts.
“I loved playing here,” Forest said. “There is no way a scorer couldn’t love this. We practice defense and if you don’t play defense, you are not going to play here. However, at the same time, we like to get out and go. A really good transition game is the key to our being successful.
“All we do in practice is run, so when we get into games, we are conditioned and ready. Sometimes the other team really struggles to play at our pace. We were always ready to play.”
Forest is proud of the mark he left with the Green Wave. He also is eager to see what happens on the next level. Presently, he is meeting with coaches and attending showcases trying to find the best offer.
“I like competing,” Forest said. “I like being the reason we win or lose. There is no greater thrill than playing with that pressure. We had a rough start my sophomore year when we got beat on a buzzer-beater in the region tournament.
“After that, we were determined to make the playoffs and we did that twice. I am ready for whatever is next. I have always liked challenges. This will be a new experience for sure. I know it will be fun. Playing basketball has always been fun.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.