By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
How big was the state championship Kemper County won in March? The first state crown for the Wildcats in 20 years?
Now nine months later, Kemper coach Kelvin Young said his star point guard Nick Giles summed it up best right after it happened – a 75-65 win against defending Class 3A champion Booneville at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
“It's like Nick said last year, this is probably the best thing that has happened in his life and probably one of the better things that will happen,” Young said about The Star's No. 5 sports story of 2012. “It was one of the highlights of the guys' careers. It was one of those teams the community was appreciative of, and one of those things where guys have probably never had happen to them.
“That certainly was an improvement over the year before.”
But even with Giles and the state's best player in Devonta Pollard, who now is at the University of Alabama, the road to that gold ball wasn't easy. The start was downright rocky.
The Wildcats, who were led by those two senior stars, opened the year 5-6 following a fourth consecutive loss, a 76-58 embarrassment at Choctaw Central. That loss, and the low mark in Kemper's season, came just two days after a fire set at the high school canceled classes. From there, though, the Wildcats found momentum as they finished 28-8.
“I think it was more where guys figured their roles out and what we needed them to do,” Young said. “And we won a few games there and got through the rivalry games, including that last regular season game with Northeast Lauderdale and after that last rivalry game and winning the district, we were on a roll and thought we couldn't be beat.
“At least in the guys' minds. Coaches are always wondering about how can we get better and where can we improve. But the guys felt like we couldn't be beat.”
The roles were mainly to provide support for Giles and Pollard. Giles, a 5-foot-9 speedy point guard who is now playing at East Mississippi Community College, averaged 21 points per game during the playoff run, also dishing out more than seven assists and pulling in almost five rebounds per game. Pollard, meanwhile, made his presence felt in all aspects of the game, averaging 23.8 points, and 15.8 rebounds per game, while also making his presence felt defensively.
In addition to leading with their play, the two seniors also provided leadership from experience. The two were part of the Kemper team that fell one game shy of a Class 3A championship just two years prior, falling in the final seconds to Forest, a team they defeated for the South State title. They also were standouts on the 2011 Wildcats that failed to return to Jackson. Those setbacks provided determination to make sure the gold ball didn't elude KC once again.
“There was a lot of determination and a lot of maturity from the first time we went over there,” Young said. “But once we hit the playoffs, they were used to that, and it helps when you have a guy that controls the game and another that dominates the middle. We had a slight advantage to most teams there.”
And the Wildcats made the most of that advantage, winning the school's second state crown. And that title is something that Young will always remember.
“I'm a lucky man to be able to coach and win one of those,” he said. “There are a lot of really good coaches that retire and never get to win that big one. I'm very humble about it and I finally realize this year, what we've done and accomplished as a team.”