Mississippi celebrated, collectively, the best college basketball regular season in recent memory Monday at the C Spire Howell/Gillom Awards luncheon at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
First things first: Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan won the Gillom Trophy and State’s Q Weatherspoon won the Howell Trophy as the most outstanding female and male college basketball players, respectively, in Mississippi this season. McCowan won over teammates Jordan Danberry and Anriel Howell, as State players made up all three Gillom finalists for the second consecutive year. Weatherspoon won over Breein Tyree of Ole Miss and Cortez Edwards of Southern Miss.
All six were key figures in a banner Magnolia State basketball season, highlighted by the Vic Schaefer’s State women’s team, which won the Southeastern Conference regular season championship and the SEC Tournament Championship for the first time in school history. State will take a 30-2 record into the NCAA Tournament next week. If there’s any justice, the Bulldogs nailed down a No. 1 seed with Sunday’s trouncing of Arkansas for the SEC Tournament Championship.
But speaker after speaker Monday also extolled the collective success of the Magnolia State’s men’s basketball teams. To wit:
• Weatherspoon led the Bulldog men to a 22-9 record in Ben Howland’s fourth season as State coach. State finished 10-8 in the SEC and surely has clinched a berth in the NCAA Tournament, which will be its first since 2009.
• Tyree led Ole Miss to a surprising 20-11 (10-8 SEC) record for a team forecast to finish 14th in the 14-team SEC in Kermit Davis Jr.’s first season as head coach. Ole Miss, too, is projected by experts to be solidly in the NCAA Tournament field.
• Edwards helped Southern Miss to a 19-11 record and a tie for second place in Conference USA. Edwards has been a key figure in USM’s steady improvement over the past four seasons under Doc Sadler. The Golden Eagles will try to win their way into the NCAA Tournament in the CUSA Tournament this week at Frisco, Texas.
As keynote speaker Tim Floyd, the Hattiesburg native and former NBA coach, noted, “Doc inherited the worst situation I’ve ever seen for a coach when he got to Southern Miss. He’s built it back and he’s done it the right way.”
Interestingly, Floyd has close relationships with Sadler, Davis and Howland, and he praised the work of all three this season. Floyd hired Davis to his first college job at Idaho 35 years ago when Davis was just 24 years old. When Floyd left Idaho two years later, Davis became the head coach. Floyd and Howland have known each other for three decades and went head to head when Floyd was the head coach at Southern Cal and Howland at UCLA. Their heated rivalry has turned into a lasting friendship. Sadler and Floyd are both former head coaches at UTEP and Floyd says be believes Sadler could have been named Conference USA Coach of the Year in any of the past three seasons.
“I’ve seen all these guys coach over the years and the success they are having now is no surprise to me at all,” said Floyd, who retired from coaching last season at UTEP.
Floyd, son of Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame coach Lee Floyd (246-147 in two different USM stints), now lives in Franklin, Tenn., and keeps a “fishing home” near Poplarville.
“I’ve enjoyed watching all these guys as a fan this season,” Floyd said. “In my mind, Mississippi basketball is in the best shape it’s been in in my memory. It’s a credit to these guys.”
Floyd joked that he has watched all three men’s coaches – and Schaefer at State – enough to know “y’all need to tone it down with your sideline demeanor.”
That brought howls because Floyd was fairly famous for his own sideline histrionics.
In fact, Schaefer recalled when he was a young assistant coach at Sam Houston State and his team was playing Floyd’s Idaho team in Huntsville, Texas.
“I was a young impressionable coach trying to learn all I could about coaching and I knew all about Tim Floyd,” Schaefer said. “I was really eager to watch his team play and learn from him. Then, the game starts and right away he argues a call, goes out and bumps a referee and gets thrown out of the game. So, Tim, don’t tell us about toning it down our sideline demeanor. We’ve all seen you in action.”