Some insight on the selection process of basketball All-Area

I’m pretty sure I say this every time I put together an All-Area Team, but it was pretty difficult doing it for basketball this year. Since I don’t like to do a first team and second team, I had to leave some really good players off the lists.

The reason I don’t like doing a second team is because we only cover eight schools, so it would take the exclusivity away if I included 10 players, plus the Player of the Year, instead of five, plus the POY.

Our Players of the Year from the 2016-17 season hail for Oak Grove, where both teams saw more success than they’ve seen in a while. Junior Lekera Hughes led her team to the first district championship since head coach Mark Swindle has been on the bench, and senior Winceton Edwards transferred back to 6A Oak Grove after dominating at a smaller MAIS school, Lamar Christian, for a season.

When I put together last season’s All-Area Team, obviously Edwards was left off the list. The reason wasn’t because of his statistics, because he averaged around 30 points per game. We just don’t cover Lamar Christian, unfortunately, and I got a message from then coach Drew Smith asking why he wasn’t on the list, because he was, in fact, deserving.

Well, Edwards did not disappoint in his return to the Warriors’ program this season, and if it’s any consolidation, he would have been on the lists last season, too.

The rest of the boys’ list is made up of four players who didn’t make the All-Area Team last season, because last season was made up of five seniors and one junior. The lone returner to the group is Petal senior Tirus Smith, who was a strong candidate for Player of the Year.

Junior Oto Duran was phenomenal in his first season at PCS after coming to Hattiesburg from the Dominican Republic in an exchange program, Oak Grove senior Charles Hartfield was hit with injuries at the beginning of the season, but when he played, he was dominant and Hattiesburg senior Alex Harris averaged nearly 16 points on a team that reached the second round of the 5A playoffs.

The last member of the team is junior Jeremiah Smith, and he’s a player I expect to compete for the Player of the Year title next season. He can score, play defense, rebound and assist for the Crusaders, and I’m excited to see him play next season as a senior.

On the girls’ side, Sumrall’s Amelia Smith, Hattiesburg’s Tarralyn Ulmer, Petal superstar Kennedy Gavin and PCS point guard Madi Norton are back on the All-Area Team after great seasons. Gavin’s season was cut short because of a knee injury, but there was absolutely no way she was getting left off the list. Smith led the Lady Bobcats back to the 4A playoffs, Ulmer helped a young Lady Tigers team to the 5A Quarterfinals in Jackson and Gavin was an important figure on an improved Lady Panthers roster.

The newbie on the list is Purvis’ Kennedy Hudson.

Hudson scored 18 points a game and pulled down six rebounds – both team-highs – for the Lady Tornadoes. While they struggled in district play, Hudson was one of the key players who helped Purvis to a decent 14-15 season.

Norton’s teammate, Gabby Gallup was probably the first player left off the list this year. She’s an incredible player and is deserving of the recognition, too. I expect to put Gallup on the All-Area team in the future. 

All in all, we had a good group of players in the Pine Belt this season, and for some, we’ll get to watch for another year or two.

Follow Camal on Twitter via @PineBeltSPORTS or email him: camal@PineBeltSPORTS.com