RJ DeLoach knew Anthony Carlyle was serious about basketball from the beginning.
It only took DeLoach, a senior transfer from Columbus Christian Academy to Columbus High School, a few hours into the initial training for the 2017-18 season to figure out his new coach was focused on preparing the Falcons for a run at a state title.
The work Carlyle started in the summer months prior to the start of the school year ultimately paid off when the Columbus High boys defeated Meridian 47-37 on March 10 to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A State championship in Jackson.
But Carlyle’s work on the court was only part of the impact he made with his players. DeLoach credited Carlyle for helping to build his self confidence on and off the court and to help him realize what he truly wanted to do: be an athletic trainer.
DeLoach said he will try to pursue that goal at East Mississippi Community College. He made the decision after leaving the Holmes C.C. men’s basketball team.
“He made me realize things I could do that I was not as confident in,” DeLoach said. “He made me a better man. He pushed me. He didn’t let me quit on myself.”
DeLoach praised Carlyle following a ceremony in which the members of the Columbus High team received their championship rings. On the walk through the Columbus High hallways prior to the ceremony, DeLoach learned Carlyle was leaving Columbus High to become the new athletic coordinator/boys basketball coach at Yazoo City High.
“He taught us a lot as far as lessons on and off the court,” DeLoach said. “He just kept telling us and we just started to make decisions on our own. With me, it was more work ethic than anything.”
Carlyle announced his resignation in a letter dated July 9. He said Monday he respected the Columbus Municipal School Board for allowing him out of his contract to pursue “my dreams.”
“An opportunity presented itself in the past week or so, an opportunity I can be athletic coordinator and still coach (boys) basketball and oversee all of the sports,” Carlyle said. “It was just one of those dream jobs that at a lot of basketball coaches in Mississippi don’t get all of the time.”
Carlyle, who is from Yazoo City, said he will have an opportunity to be around family and to have his father, Archie, a longtime boys basketball coach in the state of Mississippi, attend practices and more games.
Carlyle expects his positions to be finalized by Tuesday morning at the latest. He said he also might have to teach a class of physical education, but he won’t have to handle a full teaching load.
Senior Denijay Harris scored 26 points — including 20 in the second half — as Columbus (27-6) beat Meridian for its second state title in three seasons.
In April, Harris signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI) to play basketball at Southwest Mississippi C.C. Robert Woodard II, the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Mississippi, will play basketball at Mississippi State in the fall, while Casey Smith (Jones County Junior College) and Aaron Johnson (Holmes C.C.) also will pursue opportunities athletic opportunities at the next level.
In 2017, Carlyle led Velma Jackson High to 46-32 victory against Cleveland East Side in the MHSAA Class 3A State championship game. Nikolas Weatherspoon, who is now at MSU, had 18 points to lead Velma Jackson to its fourth title in five years. Weatherspoon is the brother of MSU guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who led Velma Jackson to the Class 3A State titles as a senior, junior, and sophomore.
Carlyle hopes he can bring similar success to the boys basketball program at Yazoo City High.
“It is basically a rebuilding process,” Carlyle said of the work he faces at Yazoo City. “They didn’t win many games last year, maybe eight or so, but it is home. I am familiar with the people who are there.”
Carlyle’s decision means Columbus High will have its fifth boys basketball coach in five seasons. He said he hopes assistant coach Philip Morris, who played boys basketball at Columbus for former coach Sammy Smith, will get a chance to take over the program.
Carlyle feels he is leaving the boys basketball program in great shape. He said the Falcons have been working out and they played about 20 games this summer. He said the experience the players had being a part of a run to a championship also should help them in the 2018-19 season.
Carlyle has that confidence because he said his players made his job easier and allowed him to coach them to help them maximize their potential.
“That’s what makes the decision hard is because sometimes when you leave a job you might be upset,” Carlyle said. “In this instance, everything was done the right way. It makes it harder to leave. It makes it harder to leave these guys because I still think they have a very good chance to be a good team this upcoming season.
“I just want to thank everyone for their support, from the school board to the administration to the staff to the fans, the parents, and the kids. I am just thankful for them embracing me and making me one of their own, and allowing us to be do something special that will be remembered for a long time. I am forever grateful.”
DeLoach is thankful for getting an opportunity to play for Carlyle and for contributing to another title at Columbus High. He credits Carlyle for helping have the confidence to chart his next step.
“I realized athletic training was more in my heart than basketball when I got down (to Holmes C.C.),” DeLoach said. “Normally I would have asked them what they wanted and I would have went with what they said, but I kind of made the decision on my own about two weeks ago.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.