After being the MHSAA Class 2A state runner-up in 2019-20, the Coahoma County High School girls basketball team did not win any games last season.
The Lady Red Panthers only played two junior high games.
As the Coahoma County girls look to rebuild and gain the experience that put them near the top, junior high coach Jonnetta Robinson Williams held tryouts Monday. Six seventh and eighth graders participated and all of them will be on the roster.
Eighth graders are Jasmine Ivy from Sherard Elementary School, Aubree McIver from Sherard Elementary School, Jamesha Smith from Lyon Elementary School and Ayani Bryant from Lyon Elementary School.
Ivy will play in the post and Bryant is a dribbler. Both played on the junior high team last season.
Seventh graders are Jasmine Coley from Jonestown Elementary School and Christen Turner from Lyon Elementary School.
“We should be pretty good,” Williams said. “We’ll come in and get some work in. Last year because of the virus, we really didn’t have that many games. But I think once we come in and learn some fundamentals, we’ll be pretty decent.”
Williams said having a summer program would be key to the program winning once again.
“It’s very important,” she said. “We’ll at least try to get a little practice in, fundamentals in, camps because basketball starts in the offseason. And, of course, this offseason, if we can get some practice in, show them some fundamentals and what to do, then they could just perfect it and work on it for the upcoming season.”
Williams stressed the importance of succeeding at the junior high and elementary school level. She said success at the lower level helps leads to success in high school.
“Even before junior high, I can remember when Walneika (Holmes) and Geneva (Walker) were playing,” Williams said. “I remember them playing in the elementary tournament. That’s why it even starts before junior high. As soon as you can, you discover that you like it and this is what you want to do, I suggest elementary fifth and sixth grade, even earlier than that, third and fourth.”
Holmes and Walker helped lead the Lady Red Panthers to several state tournament appearances.
Williams communicates with the elementary school coaches and Lady Red Panthers high school coach Derrick Moore.
“It’s very important because I’m the midpoint,” Williams said. “By high school, the things that we teach them in elementary and middle school, we expect them to pretty much have it by the time they get in high school. To be a successful team, you have to already kind of know some of these things. That’s what we’re going to spend a lot of time working on and knowing the fundamentals.”
Williams said the junior high Lady Red Panthers will practice several times a week and learn fundamentals. They may practice with the girls high school B team.
She hopes to add to the six athletes on the roster.
“We’re going to do another tryout in August when school starts,” Williams said. “We should know by August.”
Williams said she expects her team to be able to make layups and free throws and play defense well.
“We’re going to practice a lot of defense knowing how to stop the ball because if you can play defense, you can stop the other team from winning,” Williams said.
“Looking at what I have, it will probably be a mixture. We’ll probably mix it up and be selective of what we do. If we’re going to run, it just depends. It also depends on how many we have. Of course, we can’t really just run if we don’t have many. That also plays a factor in it.”
Williams wants to win, but she puts academics first.
“They have to get their grades right,” she said. “Once they get that, we can go from there. Expectations are being able to follow directions, being able to be in shape, communicate on and off the floor and just grow as a team. We haven’t been able to build a team that I want because of the virus last year so I want to make sure that we build a team and we’re able to go from there when we play together. But the first thing first is they have to be able to get their grades up.”
The Lady Red Panthers junior high team won the Delta Valley Conference twice since Williams has been the coach.
Williams is hoping this junior high group will get the Lady Red Panthers over the hump to winning a state championship in high school.
“That’s what I’m hoping that we can finally get a team in here that can get us over the hump,” Williams said. “We’ve been there several years even when I was a player because I’m also a Coahoma County graduate of 2008. So I played in two championships myself. So I’m hoping we can finally get a team that can get us over the hump.”
She is using that as a motivator.
“Whatever we’re doing, I know we’re not going to be perfect at it, but I wanted them to just work on it,” Williams said. “Keep working on it. Even if you lose the ball, go get it because it takes practice. You’re going to have to work on it in order to get better, so that’s why I’m trying to teach them early it’s OK to make mistakes. Once you make a mistake, keep trying and you’re going to get better at it if you keep working on it.”