Championship doldrums: Vicksburg High dealing with life after winning Class 5A state crown

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 11, 2003

Former Vicksburg High point guard Devin Jones raises his hands after the Gators beat Starkville to win the 2002 Class 5A state basketball championship. Jones and three other starters graduated from that team leaving VHS searching for answers. The Gators are 5-6 on the season so far and are coming off a 3-point loss to Natchez. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[12/11/03]The banner that commemorates Vicksburg High’s 2003 state championship hangs over the Gators’ bench like a shiny white cloud. It’s a constant reminder, for better or for worse, of the standard the school’s teams will have to live up to in the near future.

For the current group of Gators, though, the banner isn’t casting a shadow. This year’s team is dealing with the expectations of a defending champion while breaking in several new starters and moving some returning players to new positions.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

It hasn’t been easy VHS has lost three straight heading into Friday’s division game at Forest Hill and are 5-6 for the season.

The most crushing of those defeats came against Natchez on Tuesday. In the division opener for both teams, the Gators blew a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead to a young and untested Bulldogs’ team.

“We didn’t execute coming down the stretch,” Vicksburg coach Dellie Robinson said after the game. “We turned the ball over. We lost an 18-point lead to Warren Central, and we had a 14-point lead on Forest Hill. Just going down the stretch we can’t get it done.”

It might have been far-fetched to think this year’s Gators would be better than the 2002-03 edition. That team featured four senior starters, including point guard Devin Jones, The Vicksburg Post Player of the Year.

Two of the team’s top rebounders, L.J. Scott and Jamaal Thomas, also graduated. Alfred Patton, Brandon Harper, and returning senior Cedric Parson have stepped into that role, while Sedrick Williams has shifted from shooting guard to point guard.

“We could be better, but we’re learning to bring the ball down the court. We have too many turnovers,” Parson said. “I think we can be better.”

Williams’ transition from a spot-up 3-point specialist to leader of the offense has been among the roughest for the Gators.

Williams is still a scorer at heart, and may be too quick to take the offense into his own hands at times.

“I think I’m getting better. I’m learning to drive better. Last year I just set up on the wing,” Williams said.

He is averaging nearly 18 points per game in Vicksburg’s last four outings, but Robinson said he would like Williams to take a more methodical approach.

“He’s a great shooter, but he’s got to understand he’s got to be more of a team leader and distribute the ball a little bit more,” Robinson said. “I still want him to shoot it, but I want him to distribute it a little bit more and get everybody else involved in the ballgame … He’s going to make few shots here and there, but he can’t do it by himself. He needs help.”

Williams’ struggles at the point have led to turnovers, which has only been part of the problem for VHS lately. Injuries to starters Patton and Fred Thomas have hampered the Gators, and may have led to their recent slump.

Learning to play for four quarters and to keep a lead may turn out to be the most important lesson for the Gators.