Red Carpet tournament boasts deep talent pool

Published 11:25 am Friday, January 20, 2012

The last time Cookie Johnson went to a Red Carpet Classic, she was wearing a Warren Central uniform in 2005, playing against Harrison Central, Mississippi’s biggest dynasty. On Saturday morning, Johnson will be back on her old home floor at Warren Central, but this time, she’ll be dressed in a purple jump suit as the coach of the St. Aloysius Lady Flashes.

The St. Al girls (5-11) open the 16th annual classic against Porters Chapel Academy (0-16) at 10 a.m. at WC. It’s the first of six games. The St. Al boys and PCA boys follow at 11:30. At 1, the Vicksburg High girls meet Velma Jackson. At 2:30, the Vicksburg boys take on Velma Jackson. At 4, the Warren Central girls host Brandon and the day concludes with a 5:30 game between Warren Central’s boys and Bailey Magnet.

Saturday’s action will be a showcase for two of the county’s best players, St. Al’s Ann Garrison Thomas and Vicksburg High freshman sensation Ama Arkoful.

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Thomas comes to the RCC averaging 15.1 points per game. She’s had the single best game of the season of any player in Warren County, scoring 40 points against Piney Woods.

Arkoful had 30 points in a win last week against Clinton. She leads the Missy Gators (9-10) with 16.7 points per game.

Johnson said she is looking for a good game out of her Lady Flashes.

“We want to come in and play our ‘A’ game,” Johnson said. “When we’ve done that, it usually equals a ‘W’ for us.”

Arkoful will face the day’s toughest test as Vicksburg meets a 19-2 Velma Jackson squad. Vicksburg coach Barbara Hartzog wants to see a better effort than the one Tuesday in a 62-37 loss to Terry.

“It should be a good game for us,” Hartzog said. “We like to use these kind of games to get ready for the last two weeks going into the division tournament.”

In recent classics, the Vicksburg girls have drawn the day’s best visiting team. Two years ago, it was Northwest Rankin. The Lady Cougars won the Class 6A title last year. Clarksdale, a 25-game winner, was the foe last year at Vicksburg.

This year, Warren Central (8-12) might draw that honor as the Lady Vikes face Brandon (16-4). WC is paced by Rolanda Lovette and Shegredda Shorter.

The boys’ games are headlined by the fourth-ever meeting between St. Al and Porters Chapel. The Flashes won the first two meetings while PCA broke through last year with its first Classic win at Vicksburg High.

This year, PCA comes in with the best record in Warren County at 14-2. The Eagles have lost twice to Trinity Episcopal. St. Al, meanwhile, has struggled with just one win, but Eagles coach E.J. Creel is still wary about a quick turnaround. PCA had to play at Russell Christian Friday night in Meridian.

“We’ll get back around midnight or 1 and then have to turn around,” Creel said. “I don’t care how good or bad you are, that’s the fourth game in a row on the road, that’s going to be tough Saturday.”

Vicksburg boys coach Dellie C. Robinson said there are no gimmes for his suddenly struggling Gators (9-11), who face Velma Jackson (6-13).

“It’s going to be a struggle because every game is a struggle for us,” Robinson said. “We’re still making the mistakes that get you beat at the end of the game.”

This will be the first RCC for Warren Central boys coach Chareck Cable. Unfortunately, it will not come against Brandon, where he was an assistant coach for six years. WC (8-12) will play Bailey Magnet (11-7) instead in the RCC’s closing game.