Basketball, when coached and played the right way, can be one of the most beautiful of sports. Saturday afternoon, at Mississippi Coliseum, the Choctaw Central Lady Warriors painted a lovely portrait of just that.
They shared the basketball. They made crisp, accurate passes. They took good shots. They made most of those. They pressed and guarded passionately. They seemed to delight in d0ing all that. And, as a result, they claimed a second straight State Class 3A championship with a resounding 89-56 victory over Independence.
Don’t just take it from me. Vic Schaefer, coach of the No. 2 ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, watched the game, smiling each time Choctaw Central made the extra pass for a better shot and every time a Lady Warrior would dive on the floor for a loose ball.
“They play the game the way it is supposed to play,” Schaefer said. “I just love watching them. They just play so hard every second of every game.”
Or take it from Independence coach Jerome Martin, who shook his head while saying, “Man, you know I thought we played pretty well. I don’t know that we can play a lot better. They are just a great team and they made about everything they threw up there. I’ll tell you, I’d pay to watch them play. They are that good.”
They are. They finished the season 34-1, the one loss coming by two points to one of the largest high schools in Memphis.
“Granted, I am prejudiced but I believe we’re the best team in the state,” said Choctaw Central coach Bill Smith. “I think we showed it today.”
No telling how many points Choctaw Central would have scored had Smith not removed all his starters with two minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter and the Lady Warriors leading 77-37. What’s more, Smith removed his second bunch with 5:31 left in the game and played the rest of the way with his third five.
Point guard Darien Tubby, one of seven Choctaw Central seniors playing her final game, won the C Spire Most Outstanding Player Award for the second straight year, scoring 17 points, passing out six assists, stealing the ball six times and also contributing four rebounds. She plays the game as if the basketball is just another appendage, and she can make it do whatever she wants it to do.
“She’s our quarterback, she makes us go,” Smith said. “She’s pretty dad gum good.”
So, how does this feel, Darien Tubby was asked?
“To be honest, I’m a little sad,” Tubby said. “This is my last game, my last chance to be part of this. These four years have been so special.”
As is the case with many of her teammates, she began playing basketball at age 4. “I’ve been dribbling as long as I can remember,” she said.
Choctaw Central seniors have been part of teams that have won 123 games, while losing just 13. They played for a state championship as sophomores and won it as juniors and seniors.
Said Smith, their coach, “I don’t know what else to say about them. They are just a special, special group.”
Two of them are twins. Kyarrah Grant wears No. 30. Kyannah Grant wears No. 32. Other than their jersey numbers, you can tell them apart by their shots. Kyarrah, who shoots left-handed, made six of eight three-point shots and led the Lady Warriors with 20 points. Kyannah, who shoots right handed, scored 13 points and also contributed six rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Most of the Grants’ shots never touched metal, falling softly through the nets.
“That’s no accident,” Smith, their coach, said. “The twins are the first two in the gym every day. They shoot at least 500 shots each every day. I’d say it paid off today.”
So did the Choctaw Central full-court press, which accounted for most of 16 steals and so many points. For the Independence Wildcats, it must have seemed like there were 10 Lady Warriors on the floor at a time. Everywhere Independence turned, it was if they turned into another Warrior trap.
Smith, the demanding architect of all this excellence, is completing his sixth year at Choctaw Central, his 33rd in coaching in both the high school and junior college ranks. The man knows what he is doing. And he knows he is doing it at a special place.
“Basketball is important to these folks,” he said. “You saw the support out there today. Expectations are high. These kids start playing 20 rec league games a year in the fourth grade. They love it and it shows.”
Choctaw Central has earned a lot of fans who don’t live on the reservation. Vic Schaefer is one and there were many more in attendance Saturday, including this one doing the typing.