The Hattiesburg Tigers have high hopes on the hardwood as they look to take the experienced starters from a successful season a year ago, and make a deep push into the playoffs. The number of guys coming back and the amount of talent might just give the Tigers that push they are searching for.
Led by Coach Ernie Watson. The Tigers are looking to build off the success of the 2018/19 basketball season when they went 24-9 and made it to the third round of the playoffs to center hill.
“Our strongest class was our junior class,” Watson said. “Our junior class of last season was really the core of our team and the senior class from last year was really the support for the current starters that we currently have this season.”
The main upside to this Tiger team is the amount of experience that Hattiesburg is returning to the starting lineup. The Tigers have their top five scorers and top four rebounders from a season ago.
Leading the pack is Cameron Brown. The 6’3” shooting guard can pull up from anywhere on the court and has the length to be a force down low if needed. Brown averaged 20 points per game He is back for his senior season and has been named to the Dandy Dozen list. Brown plays mainly on the perimeter so finding good size matchups has been in his favor.
“Brown has played in the system every since the 7th grade,” Watson said. “He has seen some good players and knows what we expect as far as schemes and plays. He has learned things the right way. Our biggest thing for all of our guys is to do the extra work. He takes pride in this and has taken the time to put in the extra work. It has really shown and paid off for him. That’s what has his game to where it is now.”
Another monster returning player is the aggressive play of Nick Walker. The 6’4” senior plays like a 6’8” center at times and can pretty much out jump anyone in the gym at any given time. His athleticism has allowed Walker to average a double double with 11.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
“Nick has grown up,” coach said. “He has taken a role as one of the senior captains and has expressed himself in the locker room. I am most proud of him for stepping into this role for us. I think he has a long way to go. I think his ceiling has not been reached yet. Whoever gets him in the college gym is going to have something really special. He has so much potential. If we need a basket, he is the one that we go to.”
The one-two punch combination has started off the year where they left off. Through 10 games, Brown has seen his average down just a bit at 15 ppg whereas Walker has increased his ppg to 14.6 and maintained his double double with 10.3 rpg.
Christopher Lewis is also another rising star and currently being recruited by a couple of iuco-level colleges. The 6’1” point guard is averaging 12 points and 5 rebounds per game.
“Lewis is another kid that hasn’t reached his potential yet,” coach said. “Somebody is going to get a special kid at the next level with him. It’s just fortunate that he is on a team that has so many good players around him. This just makes him that much more dangerous on the floor with the majority of the attention on the others.”
Jayden Harrell and Alex Jordan are the last two who round out the top five starters for the Tigers. Jordan is known for his defense whereas Harrell is the three-point specialist.
”Alex is known for his defense,” Watson said. “No matter the size of their best player, we assign Alex to lock them up. He has done a good job at buying into our system and doing what we need out of him to be successful.”
“Jayden is our three-point specialist,” coach said. “If he ever starts making consistent threes in a row, we are going to have a real good job on the night.”
Another key addition is on the coaching staff. Watson’s daughter, Shantavis Hughes, has stepped in as one of the assistant coaches after playing ball and graduating from William Carey University. Watson touched on how special it is to share this time with his daughter.
“That’s my baby,” he said. “I had the joy to watch her here at Hattiesburg High and home games at William Carey University. The position came available on the seventh- and eighth-grade team and she was graduating at the same time,so I had the opportunity to get her on board. She is just like me on the court coaching. It’s funny to sit and watch her carry my habits on the court. She understands the game and relates to the kids well. She will be a fantastic coach. It’s such a pleasure to have her with us.”
The Tigers are on an eight-game winning streak after starting the season with two straight losses to Raymond and Harrison Central. Key wins for the Tigers are against Meridian, Petal, and Oak Grove. Watson talks about how important it is to get things going in the first half of the season.
In his 10th year of coaching, Watson holds a 152-111 career record as head coach of the Tigers. In nine years as a Tiger, Watson has five 20-plus win seasons.