SCOOBA – On the heels of Monday's "Late Nite with the Lions" preseason hoops festivities on the Scooba campus, basketball season tips off for the East Mississippi Community College men's and women's teams Thursday evening. The Lions will play host to the Jackson-based Royal Ambassadors Prep team at 7 p.m. at EMCC's Keyes T. Currie Coliseum, while the Lady Lions will travel to Monroeville, Ala., to take on Coastal Alabama CC-North at 5 p.m.
Following Thursday's season openers, the EMCC basketball teams will meet nearby non-division rivals Meridian Community College and East Central Community College next week. After entertaining the Eagles of Meridian on Monday evening (Nov. 5) in Scooba, East Mississippi heads to Decatur to battle the East Central Warriors Thursday night (Nov. 8). Both upcoming doubleheaders are set for 5:30 p.m. (women) and 7:30 p.m. (men) starting times.
Beginning her 14th season in charge of the Lady Lions' hoops program, head coach Sharon Thompson tips off the new campaign with seven newcomers and only three returners from last year's 11-10 squad. Expected to lead this year's youthful EMCC women's team will be sophomores Brianna Page and Emily Evans. Page, a product of West Jones High School, hails as the team's leading returning scorer (6.7 ppg) and top returning rebounder (4.5 rpg) while starting all 21 games as a freshman. Evans, out of Southaven, averaged 5.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest as a 16-game starter last season for the Lady Lions.
Also looking to step up her role as a returning player will be guard Briona Green, who saw limited backcourt action a year ago for EMCC out of Columbus High School.
Figuring to headline the Lady Lions' incoming class of recruits will be guard Tye Metcalf, from Southaven, and forward Aamiya Rush, out of West Point High School. Metcalf is a left-handed point guard who looks to have a bright future on the Scooba campus. Rush joins the mix as an athletic player with toughness that could become a difference maker on the court for EMCC over the next two seasons.
Additional youthful talent will also be provided by first-year forwards Maddie Riley (Velma Jackson HS) and Pleasure King (Vicksburg) along with the arrival of incoming guards Tatyana Norment (Forrest City, Ark.), Tia Daniels (Raymond HS) and Alaysha Jennings (New Hope HS).
With the majority of her team still getting used to the added demands both on the court and in the classroom along with the increased intensity of the collegiate game, Coach Thompson's inexperienced squad greatly benefitted from the team's two preseason jamborees played during the past month in Georgia.
"We definitely grew as a team from the preseason jamborees," Thompson noted. "We came back from playing some talented teams and I could see our growth and maturity from playing in those games. We're bringing effort, attitude and toughness to practice every day, and we're looking forward to the season."
Entering his fourth season at the EMCC men's helm, head coach Billy Begley returns eight players from last season's 12-12 team that comprise 56 percent of the team's scoring totals and also 56 percent of the squad's rebounding numbers from a year ago. Expected to lead the way for the Lions this season are returning starters Terryonte Thomas and Darrious Agnew. Thomas, out of New Hope High School, averaged 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as an EMCC freshman, while Agnew, a Starkville High School product, added 8.7 points and 6.0 boards an outing during an injury-plagued freshman campaign for the Lions.
"We have a veteran group unlike any group I've had here at EMCC," Begley said. "We have very skilled and versatile players who are good kids and fun to coach. The biggest thing with this group of players is that these guys are starting to understand how to play instead of just learning plays."
Also looking to lend significant contributions for the sophomore-laden Lions are guard Dewayne Cox (10.1 ppg & 4.7 rpg) and forward Markedric Bell (6.0 ppg & 5.9 rpg). From Ripley, Cox paced EMCC with 40 steals a year ago along with shooting 46 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free throw line. The 6-foot-7 Bell, out of Starkville, ranked second on the team with 32 blocked shots and connected on 42 percent of his three-point attempts last season.
Figuring to also make a major impact following an injury-plagued freshman year will be 6-foot-8 forward Malik Harper. The product of Pembroke Pines Charter High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a long and versatile stretch four who looks to cause matchup problems for EMCC opponents.
Sophomore guards Robert Davis Jr. (Clinton), Noel Jones (Pascagoula) and Jerrian Young (Hartfield Academy) round out the Lions' talented eight-man group of returners.
EMCC's quartet of first-year players consists of out-of-staters Arecko Gipson Jr., out of Memphis, and Dawson Graham, from Nebraska, along with in-state guards Donte Powers and KJ Riley by way of Starkville and Southaven, respectively. A product of the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, Gipson was a 2017-18 Class A Mr. Tennessee Basketball finalist. Graham was a two-time North Platte (Neb.) Telegraph Player of the Year who averaged 18.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game as a prep senior.