HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - In the Pine Belt area, the sport of basketball often seems to be swept under a baseball rug or covered by the shadow of a football stadium.
However, this area of Mississippi has been treated to tremendous basketball seasons over the years and witnessed some superior talent pass through.
After graduating from Blair High School in 1974, Purvis Short went on to set the Jackson State record for career points and average 17.3 points in 12 NBA seasons.
A few years later, Clarence Weatherspoon came from Crawford to rock the rims of Reed-Green and set the all-time rebounding record at Southern Miss. After averaging a double-double in four years, Weatherspoon enjoyed a 12-year NBA career.
Then there was “Big Al” Jefferson – drafted to the NBA out of Prentiss High School in 2004. Mature beyond his years, Jefferson averaged 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in 14 seasons.
That’s just to name a few – all three of whom played in different eras. 2020 introduces a new crop of high school talent.
Four local players are among the Clarion Ledger’s annual “Dandy Dozen,” including Petal seniors Caleb McGill and Treylan Smith. Hattiesburg seniors Cameron Brown (PRCC signee) and Melyia Grayson (Southern Miss signee) were also named to the list of Mississippi’s premier players for 2019-20.
It’s translated to some competitive basketball in the Pine Belt. Three boys teams rank inside Maxpreps’ top 25 – No. 4 Oak Grove (17-2), No. 7 Hattiesburg (18-5) and No. 22 Petal (11-6).
The enthusiasm resonated on January 21 when the Tigers beat the Warriors 69-67 in front of an estimated crowd of 900.
“We’re kind of making it a big thing around here,” said Oak Grove junior guard Jay Barnes, who scored 42 points on 12 three-point field goals earlier this season. “Like basketball’s important so we’re just trying to keep that culture going."
”I love playing against my boys from all over,” Brown said. “They push us harder to get better as well as I push them when I play against them. I love playing against those guys ‘cause we compete."
“We’re very fortunate that we’re not in the same division like we were a couple years back with Oak Grove and Petal,” said Hattiesburg head coach Ernie Watson. “We love the atmosphere that it brings, we love for the kids to compete.”
“If you look at the history of this area, basketball has always been kind of big when you go back to the Purvis Short’s and the Damion Smith’s that went to USM and graduated from Hattiesburg High,” said Oak Grove head coach LaRon Brumfield. “Overall, the Pine Belt area, basketball has a lot of talent.”