With the end of volleyball season and football nearing its playoffs begins the countdown to the high school basketball season.
For context, MAIS basketball starts in just over one week.
In past years, or I guess in my youth when I was just a freelancer, I never had any real excitement for Pine Belt basketball. As we all remember, and it seems like yesterday since COVID-19 killed the spring sports, last basketball season was one to remember. It’s hard to believe that a Pine Belt team didn’t come away with a state championship.
While I don’t think this year will have the absurd amount of coaching and player of the year caliber performances, I do think this season could feature some dominant teams. Here are my picks for the top three area teams heading into the upcoming season.
Both the North Forrest boys and girls teams should both bring highly competitive groups. However, the North Forrest boys return almost every member of its team that finished in the Final Four including stud Joseph Holloway. This boys team should easily make a run again. The only difference for them this year is that they enter this season with high expectations unlike a season ago. While some teams would struggle with that pressure, being under the guidance of the reigning Area’s Boys Coach of the Year Quenton Loving makes it hard to vision them falling victim to that.
Sacred Heart Girls
Matt O’Keefe, the Area’s reigning Girls Coach of the Year, and the Sacred Heart girls had one of the most unlikely seasons after finishing in the Final Four.
Led by Gracie Falla, who put together an easily arguable Player of the Year season as a sophomore, the Crusaders return every member of its starting lineup. Like the North Forrest boys, how will Sacred Heart handle having such high expectations entering the year? The other question is will O’Keefe finally earn his first state championship in the second stint of his successful coaching career?
Oak Grove Boys
Entering last year, Oak Grove had probably the highest expectations entering the 2019 season. After a 15-1 start, the Warriors were derailed in the postseason as Meridian upset Oak Grove in the region championship and were then bounced in the second round of the playoffs. Despite the setback, Oak Grove returns most of its key starters including its top two scorers in Jay Barns and Dylan Brumfield. Will this finally be Oak Grove’s big year?
Some other teams to be on lookout for are the Lumberton boys and girls. Lumberton’s boys return many key players from its district championship squad, but how any team performs under a first-year head coach is hard to not question. The Lumberton girls lost significant senior talent, but with Portland Brown taking over the team it’ll be interesting to see how she develops the young group.
Of course there are other extremely talented programs around here that always make themselves contenders such as the Petal boys, the Forrest County AHS boys and the Hattiesburg boys and girls. While I think those teams will make the playoffs, the amount of star talent those teams lost is hard to replace.
No matter what, I think its safe to say that the Pine Belt will be treated to another fun year of high school basketball.
Andrew Abadie of Pine Belt Sports can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PineBeltSPORTS or @AndrewAbadie.