Bailey Howell Trophy winner Iverson Molinar, is joined by his coach Ben Howeland (left) and Howell (right).

Ole Miss’s Shakira Austin, a repeat winner, and Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar accepted the Peggie Gillom and Bailey Howell trophies, respectively, during an awards luncheon Monday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Museum.

It says here media voters from across the state got it right in voting that MSHOF executive director Bill Blackwell said was the closest in recent years. Ole Miss, 23-8 overall and 10-6 in the Southeastern Conference, was the best women’s team in the state, and Austin, who averaged 15.4 points and nine rebounds a game, was the Lady Rebels’ best player. Mississippi State, 17-14 overall and 8-10 in the SEC, was the best men’s team in the state, and Molinar, who surely will be named to the All-SEC team Tuesday, was far and away the Bulldogs’ best player.

Clearly, there was a certain symmetry to both awards.

Before we get into all the particulars, one of the most interesting moments of the program came when Ben Howland was talking about Howell’s legacy. Howland mentioned that Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe has averaged 15.3 rebounds per game this season and commentators are calling him the greatest college rebounder in decades.

Said Howland, “Bailey Howell averaged 17 rebounds per game for his entire career!”

How good is that?

Of course, Howland also could have mentioned that Vanderbilt’s Scottie Pippen Jr. leads SEC scorers this season with 20.5 points per game. Howell averaged 27 per game for his career. It should be stressed that Howell played during an era when there was no shot clock, and coaches, including the great Babe McCarthy at State, often held the ball (“freezes it”) for long periods of times. 

No telling what Bailey Howell would have averaged at today’s much faster pace. Little wonder he was the second overall pick of the 1959 behind another fairly good player, the one named Wilt Chamberlain.

Peggie Gillom Trophy winner Shakira Austin is flanked by Gillom (left) and her Ole Miss coach, Yolett McPhee-McCuin

Austin won over fellow finalists Amyshya Williams-Holliday of Jackson State and Anastasia Hayes of Mississippi State. Williams-Holliday, who began her college career at State, led JSU to a perfect 18-0 record in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and a 20-6 mark overall. She led the Lady Tigers in scoring with 19.8 points per game and in rebounding with 11.2 per game. Hayes averaged 18.6 points per game for State.

Presumably, the close voting was between Austin and Williams-Holliday, who both had outstanding seasons for successful teams. The two did go head-to-head in November with Austin scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead Ole Miss to a 79-66 victory. Williams-Holliday paced Jackson State with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Both Austin and Williams-Holliday have more basketball to play. Ole Miss should be a 6-seed, maybe even a 5-seed, in the NCAA Tournament. Jackson State will play Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the SWAC Women’s Tournament at Birmingham Wednesday night.

Molinar, State’s point guard, averaged 17.8 points and 3.6 assists per game and saved some of his best performances for the strongest competition. For instance, he scored 30 points in an overtime loss at Kentucky. He has scored in double figures in every State game this season.

“As good a player as he is, he takes his studies just as seriously as he does his basketball,” Howland said of Molinar. “As good of a player and student as he is, he is an even better person.”

Howell, a six-time NBA All-Star who still follows State basketball closely, believes Molinar has the talent and game to make it at the NBA level.

“He doesn’t have any weakness in his game,” Howell said of Molinar. “He can handle it, pass it and he is a very good defensive player. If there’s an area where he can use some improvement its in his long-range shooting. There’s such an emphasis in the NBA on three-point shooting.”

Molinar won the Howell over finalists Jarkell Joiner of Ole Miss and Tyler Stevenson of Southern Miss. Joiner averaged 13.4 points per game despite injuries this season. Stevenson led the Golden Eagles in scoring (14.7) and rebounds (7.7).

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.