Within the last four weeks, I have covered some of the teams that won or played for a state championship last season. And I was able to talk to the respective head coaches at length after each contest.
This particular effort is on the Booneville Blue Devils, a Class 3A finalist from last season. And as you might remember, the 3A State Champions from 2011.
On a more recent note, the Blue Devils are fresh off a 55-54 victory Saturday over the previously undefeated Baldwyn Bearcats in the championship game of the Prentiss County Tournament.
Back to the start of the season, I will admit to having my doubts about the Blue Devils, considering the graduation of ball handlers Darius Leach and Keldrick Lesley.
Sure Kenny Paul Geno is one of the most talked about seniors in the rich history of Northeast Mississippi basketball. He has skills.
But one player can not do it all.
Then right out of the gate, Booneville loses its first two games to Biggersville and Corinth. Then a couple of weeks later, they fall to another strong 3A team, the Mooreville Troopers.
“Coming into the season, we were inexperienced,” Booneville head coach Michael Smith said. “We have changed some of the things we’ve done in past years to suit the players we have this season.
“Every day, we’ve got to try to do the best we can. I don’t know where this team can go yet.”
Of course most of the focus by the average spectator will be on Kenny Paul Geno, the senior who is averaging 20 points per game. To me the key stat is 12.5 rebounds per game.
I knew he could play inside, but when I covered the Blue Devils beating Tupelo (21 points, 18 rebounds in this one) before Christmas, I was amazed at how hard he worked at rebounding that game. At that point, I knew that any time any one else talked about Geno’s scoring, or lack of, I would absolutely bring up his rebounding in as firm a manner as I needed.
“I don’t care how good a player he is, he can’t be a good team,” Smith said. “Early in the year, he struggled.
“As the season has progressed, he’s become a more efficient player
Oh yes, back to this season, the Blue Devils have not lost since Mooreville, which is about the time football players like Jordan Miller rejoined the team.
Even before their thrilling win over Baldwyn, I would have argued that Booneville was playing the best basketball of any boys team in the area.
But Booneville can not rest on this one victory.
Key Division 1-3A games this week include Holly Springs Tuesday and Ripley Friday.
Saturday, there is the Hot Bed Classic in New Albany and Piney Woods.
A note here that this is at least the third year in-a-row for Piney Woods at the Hot Bed. Two years ago, they beat Tupelo, and last year, lost to Baldwyn.
Then there is a Feb. 2 test hosting 6A Olive Branch.
Ahhhh, there is also the rematch Feb. 7 at Baldwyn.
Can Booneville maintain its level of play through the regular season and into the playoffs?
With the likes of 2-3A Mooreville and Aberdeen lurking, just getting to Jackson will be an accomplishment for the Blue Devils.
David Wheeler has been contributing to the high school sports coverage of the Daily Journal since 1985.