The race to win the MHSAA 5A-1 boys’ basketball title this year could be among the most exciting races of the winter season.
Olive Branch, which entered the district this year as it was reclassified to 5A, will bring a high-powered offense led by D.J. Jeffries, who has nearly every college basketball coach salivating about the opportunity to sign him to a college scholarship.
But just up the road at Center Hill High School is another high-powered scorer, who may not be as well known at the national level, but more coaches are learning more about the talents of senior shooting guard Brien Kimmons all the time.
Kimmons has helped lead the Mustangs to a 9-0 record prior to Monday’s home game against Bartlett, Tenn.
The 5-foot-8 senior may look diminutive when placed side-to-side with the likes of the 6-foot-8 Jeffries, but while Jeffries is throwing dunks down the basket, Kimmons is matching him by raining threes down from anywhere, including the front lobby concession stand if need be.
Jeffries has earned all of the accolades and honors, but Center Hill coach Newton Mealer said opponents cannot ignore the shooting accuracy of Kimmons, who is averaging 28.5 points-per-game thus far.
“Brien is playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Mealer said. “This is his year and Brien has been battle tested. He’s been to three Elite Eight appearances and the guy’s been to two state tournaments and a Final Four. Brien knows this is a critical year for him as far as recruiting is concerned and trying to move on to the next level and getting a college scholarship.”
Mealer noted that Kimmons is stepping up and taking a leadership role on this year’s Mustang basketball team, something he didn’t have to do in past seasons.
“He worked so hard this off-season, especially on taking jump shots, especially on his body,” Mealer said. “He’s playing for a purpose. He wants to finish his career on the right note, as far as the team, and individually he wants to finish on the right note and get himself a college scholarship.”
Friday night, Kimmons again showed that he will be a force to be reckoned with in DeSoto County basketball this winter, as he scored 26 points in the Mustangs’ 101-58 victory at Hernando. All of Kimmons’ points came in the first three quarters of the non-district victory.
But while Kimmons will typically be the leading scorer for Center Hill this season, Mealer said his team thinks of itself as more than just one player.
“We’ve got a ball club who really likes each other,” Mealer said. “They don’t care who scores. When we get in the locker room, they’re not asking about stats, they’re excited about winning basketball games.”
The Mustangs’ coach added more schools are learning about Kimmons and getting interested. If Center Hill finds itself back in Jackson again in March, it’s likely the number of schools that would like to add Kimmons to their roster will have exponentially increased.
HOOP HIGHLIGHTS: Malik Wallace is becoming a leader on the floor for Hernando this season. Wallace scored 12 points in Friday’s loss to Center Hill, but then came back to score 21 points for the Tigers in a 64-61 loss to Memphis Catholic.
Meanwhile, Rachel Greer led the 8-1 Hernando Lady Tigers with 15 points in posting a 44-41 win Saturday over Memphis Catholic, that school’s first loss of the year.
Zuri Dunlop paced Hernando with 15 in the Lady Tigers’ 41-31 victory over Center Hill in the first game of the hoops doubleheader on Friday. Kendria Merriweather and Alyssa Greer scored eight. Rachel Greer and Keeyuna Neely each added four points to the effort. Carrington Kneeland paced Center Hill’s scoring with 13 points.
“We’re executing as a team,” said Hernando coach Daniel Forbes after Friday’s win over Center Hill. “Every play, every defense and every offensive possession, we need to be on the same page."
Elsewhere, Jeffries was named the co-MVP of Olive Branch’s 91-76 victory over Adair County, Ky. on Saturday, as he scored 35 points for the Quistors in the contest. He shared game honors with Zion Harmon, considered the best player in the country in the Class of 2021. Harmon scored 33 points in the loss, part of the Marshall County Hoopfest in Kentucky.
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.