Former Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon is never far from his hometown of Canton.
Physically, it’s just 1 hour, 45 minutes down Mississippi Highway 25 from Starkville where Weatherspoon finished his four-year college basketball career as one of three players in MSU history to eclipse 2,000 points.
Then there’s the metaphorical distance.
Bold black ink on the outside of Weatherspoon’s right leg creates a silhouette of the state of Mississippi. A red star in the center of the inscribed map marks the geographic location of Canton.
Below the inked sketch are the numbers “601” — Canton’s telephone area code.
For Weatherspoon, it’s a constant reminder of the place that raised him.
“I look down at it and see where I came from and it just makes me work harder to try and get out of there,” Weatherspoon said.
It has been roughly four years since he helped Velma Jackson High School to its third straight Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A boys’ basketball state championship.
Weatherspoon and 65 other NBA Draft hopefuls are participating in the four-day NBA Draft Combine, which began Tuesday in Chicago.
Yet as his path now shifts toward the NBA Draft, Weatherspoon forever holds his hometown near and dear to his heart — especially the friends he made there.
“There’s four of us,” said Kendarius Smith, Weatherspoon’s former high school teammate. “And we all came from the same background and we all grew up together. We watched each other grow up.”
Growing up in Canton, located just north of Jackson, was what it was.
The town of roughly 13,000 residents — 24.8 percent of which live below the poverty line — is plagued with many of the problems found in poor Mississippi towns. Residents tend to stay, despite aspirations to leave.
Then there’s the potential for falling into the wrong crowd.
By sticking together, Weatherspoon, Smith, Anfernee Parker and Moses Greenwood committed themselves to avoiding either fate.
“It was something special,” Greenwood said of having the group to lean on in avoiding trouble. “Just knowing that all four of us got each other’s back and knowing we’re not letting anything get between us and knowing that we have the same future ahead of us.”
It became clear by middle school the friends’ future would involve the hardwood. They rolled through central Mississippi competition as seventh and eighth graders at Northeast Madison Middle School — so regularly that Smith recalled the disdain opposing squads felt for their dominance.
After defeating Canton Middle School handily, the team boarded the bus for home. As they started toward the exit, CMS fans bombarded the bus — throwing objects toward the windows in disgust that their own middle schoolers had been defeated.
Once in high school, the foursome helped Velma Jackson to heights unseen in the program’s history — winning three-straight state championship games between 2013 and 2015.
“All the games that we won, we were winning by 30 or 40,” Smith said of Velma Jackson’s regular season contests. “Me and Quinndary and Moses, we’d play the first half and then we wouldn’t play.”
In the run toward the first title, it was a mid season win over Madison Central that Weatherspoon’s friends caught a glimpse of his transcendent talent.
“He went off,” Smith said. “I don’t even know if he missed a shot that game. He had like 33 or 35 (points) and after that game he didn’t let up.”
With Weatherspoon leading the way, Velma Jackson earned its first ever MHSAA 3A state championship in 2013 with a 45-44 win over Booneville in the title game.
Canton took notice.
“I think once we started winning and things like that the community got behind us,” Weatherspoon said. “It was able to give them something to do on weekdays and weekend nights. I really think it helped the community come together as one.”
As their final season at Velma Jackson closed with a third-consecutive championship, the senior quartet headed toward the college ranks.
Weatherspoon signed with MSU as part of coach Ben Howland’s first full recruiting class. Smith first went to Northeast Mississippi Community College before closing his career at North Alabama.
Greenwood played four years at Southeastern Louisiana, averaging 17.2 points per game his senior year, and Parker spent one season at Copiah-Lincoln Community College before finishing at NAIA school Tougaloo College.
The days of playing together may officially have been over, but the group had accomplished their goal — finding a way out.
“We all just kept each other out of trouble, kept each other on the right path,” Smith said. “I think that’s why we are the guys we are today.”
On to the next phase
It’s late August at Yazoo City High School. The stifling Mississippi summer heat has begun its ascent into fall.
Four teams comprised of local players run pick-up games in the school gym. Weatherspoon, Parker, Smith and Greenwood represent the Velma Jackson contingent.
Anthony Carlyle, the foursome’s high school coach, took a job as the head boys’ basketball coach and athletic director at Yazoo City in July. He opened the facility for his former players.
The pick-up games are nothing new. On Sundays during their youth, Weatherspoon, Parker, Smith and Greenwood would play on the outdoor court just up the road from Smith’s house.
The games persisted into college. Each player would notify the others of their arrival into town during breaks via group message. They would get on the court together as soon as possible.
“Everybody was coming out there and competing,” Greenwood said. “Tried to show what we learned from our college and skills that we enhanced over the few months that we’d been in college.”
Trash talk was generally limited, particularly from Weatherspoon. He will dish it out occasionally, but prefers to let his play speak for itself.
“If you’re talking he’ll just show you ‘I’m better than you,'” Smith said of Weatherspoon.
It’s been nearly nine months since those unassuming scrimmages at Yazoo City. It’s also the last time Weatherspoon shared the court with all three of his high school teammates.
In the weeks and months since, he helped MSU to its first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. Weatherspoon also concluded his career in Starkville as one of just 13 players in program history to earn All-Southeastern Conference accolades three times.
Joined by former MSU teammate Aric Holman, Weatherspoon participated in the 67th annual Portsmouth Invitational — a 12-game tournament that invites the top 64 senior college basketball players in the country to perform in front of NBA representatives.
Weatherspoon averaged a team-high 17.3 points, five rebounds, four assists and 1.7 steals per game over the four-day competition, helping Sales Systems, Ltd. to the 2019 championship game.
Smith and Greenwood have also chased professional basketball aspirations of late. Smith has been offered contracts in Iceland, Germany and Finland, while Greenwood recently hired an agent to handle his dealings.
Where Weatherspoon will continue his basketball career remains a mystery. He’s widely considered a second-round prospect in mock drafts.
Location aside, with basketball as his guide, Canton as his motivator and former teammates as his support system, Weatherspoon is intent making the most of his NBA opportunity.
“The way Quinn has grown in front of my eyes, it’s crazy sort of,” Smith said. “But I can see why because I know the work that he put in and I’m just so proud of him. I just hope I hear his name in that draft. I’m going to go crazy.”
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.