Little Six title gives Vikings rosy outlook for the future

Published 7:01 pm Friday, February 3, 2017

For most of two decades, Warren Central’s boys basketball program appeared to be stuck in neutral. Lately, it seems, the engine is revving as the Vikings get ready to launch into high gear the next few years.

Warren Central’s ninth-grade team capped a 15-2 season by winning the Little Six Conference tournament championship last week. It’s the second consecutive Little Six title for the program, and the ninth-grade teams have posted a 28-6 record in the past two seasons. Before 2016, Warren Central hadn’t won the ninth-grade Little Six league since 1993.

As those players filter up to the varsity squad, ninth-grade coach James Lewis said the next few years should be something to look forward to.

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“That gets you more excited than anything, because the guys that played last year are 10th-graders now and they’ll be playing a lot next year,” Lewis said. “When I say the future is bright, I’m saying it’s really bright. Hopefully it’ll keep on going. That’s my goal, is to keep those guys coming up through the ranks.”

Even more promising than the overall success was the way this year’s freshman Vikings achieved it. They overcame an early-season knee injury to leading scorer Jabari Bowman by adapting their style and getting some of their reserves to step up into more prominent roles.

Originally, the offense was geared around the 6-foot-3, 220-pound post player Bowman. He missed nine games, and in his absence the Vikings turned into a small but lightning-fast guard-oriented team. They won all nine games that Bowman missed.

“We had guys that were knocking down shots, guys that were locking down on defense. This team was really deep. People underestimated us and laughed at us when we got off the bus because we were so small, and that’s what made this group special,” Lewis said. “I never thought we were going to pick it up like we did. We lost the first game without J.B., and then we won nine in a row after that one loss. No coach can expect his kids to put it together that fast.”

Lewis had special praise for Tony Littleton, a 5-foot-4 guard who moved into the starting lineup when Bowman was out.

“When he came in, we played a little faster,” Lewis said. “He did everything we needed him to do. He scored six points in the championship game, too. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but at this level, in a game where points are at a premium, that’s huge.”

Bowman remained alongside his teammates throughout the season, attending every game and cheering from the bench. He returned to the lineup in the regular-season finale, a loss to Rosa Scott, and then led the Vikings through a dominant run in the Little Six tournament.

Warren Central beat Northwest Rankin by 32 points in the first round, Vicksburg by 16 in the semifinals, and Rosa Scott — Madison Central’s ninth-grade team — 58-43 in the championship game.

Bowman scored 13 points in the championship game.

“He was ready. He was really ready,” Lewis said with a laugh.

And now, it seems, Warren Central is ready to start reaping the rewards of its successful feeder program. Three varsity starters will graduate this year, and even with a big junior class on the roster it seems there will be an opportunity for the members of the 2016 and 2017 Little Six championship teams to compete for playing time in the 2017-18 season.

Lewis is hoping the enthusiasm of the last two seasons also transfers on to the varsity level. The tournament championship game was played in front of a large and festive home crowd that indicated an appetite for success within the school.

“The tournament was here, and we got a lot kids coming out to support us every night. I couldn’t thank them enough,” Lewis said. “Every year is a different year because you have a different group, but I’ve been blessed to have good kids. They were eager to want to get better. I love what I do, and that just makes it more fun.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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