After the shot went down, Andrew Howell cast a glance at the bench of his vanquished rival.
Then a standout basketball player at Madison-Ridgeland Academy, Howell had just hit a game-winner at the buzzer to preserve a Patriots home winning streak that stretched multiple years. He looked at the sideline where visiting Jackson Academy stood in shock, searching for the countenance of the Raiders’ coach. Soon, he found it.
“I could just see the face of Bill Ball steaming,” Howell said.
It was one of several unforgettable games for Howell when he played against Ball-coached JA teams — MRA won every time, Howell said — during his high school career in the mid-2000s.
“We go way back,” Howell said of Ball. “I’ve been watching him closely for a long time and have always been respectful of who he is and what he’s done.”
Now, Howell will have the chance to fill Ball’s shoes at a school he knows quite well.
On Wednesday morning, the Oak Hill Academy boys basketball coach accepted the same position at Starkville Academy, a job Ball held for the past two years. Ball announced his resignation March 23 and was announced Wednesday as the new boys coach at Hartfield Academy.
“Coach Ball has the knowledge and experience to continue building on the proud tradition that persists in our basketball program,” head of school David Horner said in a statement from Hartfield. “He is an intense competitor with a proven track record of developing teams and players, mentoring young men, and building a community of support for a program.”
That left Howell to take the job at SA, where he went from kindergarten to fifth grade from 1994 to 2000. Howell said things have come “full circle” — his sister’s name graces a championship banner in the Vols’ gym, and he’s attended plenty of games there as well.
“I remember being in first grade, second grade, sitting in those bleachers watching those games,” Howell said. “To think that I’m going to be the head coach there is really wild.”
Starkville Academy reached the MAIS Class 4A championship game before losing to the same Hartfield team Ball will now be coaching. Howell said Ball leaves a strong foundation and an excellent culture within the Vols’ program.
“They were coached by one of the greatest high school coaches in Mississippi, I believe,” Howell said. “The guys are going to know a lot. They’ve already been well coached.”
From spending the past two years at Oak Hill, Howell is plenty familiar with Ball’s fundamentally sound Vols teams. The two teams met once in Starkville this past season and will face off Nov. 4 in West Point, meaning Howell’s very first game in charge might just be against his old school.
“That’s going to be a fun environment, and we’re looking forward to that,” Howell said.
He thanked the Raiders for giving him his first head coaching job and for two standout years in West Point.
“This was a very, very tough decision because of what a great school that is and what a great family atmosphere they have there,” Howell said. “That’ll be a school and a family that I remember for the rest of my life and will always appreciate.”
Howell’s contract at Oak Hill runs through the end of May, and he’ll take over at SA in early June. He said he hopes to build on what Ball established in Starkville over the past two seasons and is optimistic about what’s to come.
And hopefully, Howell said, a game against Ball’s new Hartfield team will end up on Starkville Academy’s schedule.
“He’s one of the best coaches around,” Howell said of Ball. “He’ll do a really, really good job there. It’s really kind of scary for the rest of the Jackson area, to be honest, with him getting back there.”
Howell, meanwhile, will do his best to take advantage of the opportunity he earned in Starkville.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.