Gators make most of thefts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 26, 2002

Devin Jones of Vicksburg, right, steals the ball from Madison Central’s David Long as Gators’ teammate l.J. Scott looks on during Vicksburg’s win on Friday. Both the Gators and Missy Gators have made a habit of stealing from their opponents this season with the Gators averaging more than eight steals while the Missy Gators average about 12 per game. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

Sports writer

[12/26/02]Most coaches go out of their way to keep their players out of trouble. Vicksburg High’s coaches encourage their players to steal.

On the basketball court, that is.

Both the Gators and Missy Gators are averaging in double figures in steals as a team this season. It’s one of the biggest reasons both VHS teams have gotten off to great starts heading into today’s Northwest Rankin Dr. Pepper Classic.

“It helps us a lot, because sometimes we struggle in our half-court offense. Anytime you can shoot a layup, you’ve got to love it,” said Missy Gators coach Mike Coleman, whose team is averaging 14.4 steals per game and has an 8-4 record. “I’d much rather be stealing the ball and shooting a layup than setting up (the offense) any day.”

Four of the five Missy Gator starters are averaging 2.4 steals per game or better and the fifth, Arcola Scott, averages 1.8. In all, VHS had 173 steals in its first 12 games.

Tiffany Hubbard and Tricia Dart each average 2.8 steals per game, followed by Charlette Taylor with 2.5 and Shalonda Williams with 2.4.

Dart credited the increase in thievery with an increase in hustle.

“We’re doing the same things, we just have long arms and we hustle a lot,” she said.

Experience has also played a part Taylor, Dart, and Williams are all seniors, and Scott and Hubbard are juniors but the biggest reason Coleman could think of was his players’ quickness.

The Missy Gators don’t have a true post player, with Scott and Hubbard playing that role. Neither are very tall, but they are quicker than most of their opponents down low.

“We’re just so quick on defense. That’s where we get most of our scoring opportunities. Tiffany and Tricia have always been good defensive players, and now they’re improving on offense too,” Coleman said. “We don’t have a slow player on the floor. Our starting post players are Tiffany and Arcola, and Arcola is as quick as a guard.”

The Gators’ steals aren’t spread through the lineup like the Missy Gators, but the VHS boys have proven equally adept at picking the pockets of unwary opponents.

The Gators had 88 steals in their first seven games, an average of 12.6 per game. Devin Jones has been the biggest thief, with 3.7 steals per game, but Roy Williams isn’t far behind with 2.9.

“It’s just his quickness and he has those real long arms,” VHS coach Dellie Robinson said of Williams. “He’s about 6-2, but he’s really about 6-5 when you add his arms in there.”

While Williams uses his quickness and long arms to fill passing lanes, Robinson said Jones uses his head to create more turnovers and points.

Thanks, in part, to the easy transition layups that come with the steals, Jones is also the team’s leading scorer with 18 points per game as the Gators have rolled to a 10-2 start.

“Devin just understands the game so well, and he’s a student of the game. It’s very rare that you’re going to see Devin make just a boneheaded mistake,” Robinson said.

Jones and Williams are the biggest thieves for the Gators, but the entire lineup has the ability to chip in, Jones said.

“We only have one person on the floor that isn’t all-out quick. Everyone else has guard speed,” he said.

The similarity in the style of play used by the Gators and Missy Gators isn’t just a coincidence. Robinson and Coleman often bounce ideas off of each other, they said, and the two VHS teams have often been similar in style over the last four years.

“Even though the records haven’t been identical, we’ve had almost the same type of teams every year I’ve been here. They’re quick and we’re quick, and I think it’s because both of us believe in defense, too,” Coleman said. “Me and Dellie sit and talk a lot, and I’ll get him to show me some things in practice and every now and then I’ll show him some things.”

If both VHS teams keep up their pace in the second half of the season, Robinson and Coleman may have more than just strategy to talk about. Division championships and state tournament runs could also be on the agenda.

Robinson said the defensive pressure would be key to the Gators’ success the rest of the way.

“We’re going to have to be able to continue to do that because we’re not that big inside,” Robinson said. “We’re going to have to take chances and continue to be aggressive defensively and challenge the offense.”