I joined a couple of groups on Facebook -- Legends on the Football Field in Natchez, Ms., and The Mount Rushmore of Natchez Basketball.

It's been a lot of fun re-uniting with former players and recalling fond memories of years gone by.

I have to admit I've stayed away from who is the best…..

Although I did commit to former North Natchez Ram Russell Johnson as the best athlete I watched perform on local fields and courts.

Russell could do it all on the football field and basketball court.

And he was quite the outfielder on the baseball team with a good bat.

Chris Logan, Kelvin Knight, Robin Harris, Rouldra Thomas, Jarrod West, Troy Moore, Timothy Hooker and Albert Irving are just basketball players who could be the Mount Rushmore of Natchez basketball. And, yes, I left off some very, very good ones.

Irving was part of an Alcorn State basketball program that went 53-3 overall from 1978-80, including 49-1 in the regular season and 26-0 in conference. They won four championships and picked up wins in both the NIT and NCAA Tournaments.

In 1978-79, the Braves finished a perfect 26-0 (12-0 SWAC) before heading into the NIT. They won the SWAC Tournament with a 108-89 win over second-seeded Southern in the championship.

 Though, despite their undefeated record, Alcorn did not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament because the SWAC was in a transition period and did not have an automatic qualifier. Instead, the Braves played in the NIT where they defeated Mississippi State 80-78 in the first round. 

Alcorn was knocked out of the NIT by top-seeded Indiana, which went on to win the tournament. Afterwards, IU head coach Bob Knight told Sports Illustrated that Alcorn was its toughest opponent, squeaking out a 73-69 decision.

The following year in 1979-80, the Braves posted a 27-1 record prior to the NCAA Tournament and ran the table again in the SWAC with a 14-0 mark. 

They crushed Southern in the semifinals of the SWAC Tournament 116-62 before disposing Grambling State 83-61 in the finals.

The SWAC still did not have an automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament, however Alcorn became the first-ever (and only) HBCU institution to earn an at At-Large bid. The Braves took down South Alabama 70-62 in the first round of March Madness before falling to No. 1 seed LSU 98-88 in the Round of 32. LSU was led by Rudy Macklin.

Irving, who scored more than 1,000 points in his career, was drafted in the fifth round of the 1982 NBA Draft by Golden State.

Corey Isaac, Duane Hickombotttom, Delvie Gales created the group on May 14, 2020. Nook Logan is a valuable contributor.

Logan, a dynamic guard for the basketball Bulldogs is a former Major League Baseball center fielder. He attended Copiah-Lincoln Community College. He made his Major League debut July 21, 2004, with the Detroit Tigers against the Kansas City Royals. He was named the Tigers' rookie of the year for 2004.

The Web site has certainly been something to help pass the time during the coronavirus. And, as with any such group, you have discussions and disagreements.

That's what makes this group so enjoyable.

And I have learned that former Cincinnati Red Eric Davis grew up in Broadmoor subdivision and Clyde Drexler married a girl from Natchez.

However, there is one recurring statement being made that I have to strongly disagree with at this point.

A few have said Vidalia native Mike Martin should have won more state championships at Natchez High.

Don't even think about dropping the microphone there.

Martin led Natchez High to a state championship in 1993-94.

It was far from his most talented team.

Other teams with Rouldra Thomas, Troy Moore, Johnny Franklin, Raymond Morris, Javis Johnson, Morris Credit, Frank Chatman, David Hayward, Jeff Shannon and many others.

Natchez beat Lanier for the title in 1994. 

That team was led by Jerry Nichols, who picked Georgetown over Kansas, Missouri and Ohio State. 

Nichols had the misfortune of arriving at Georgetown at the same time as Allen Iverson.

Lanier was led by legendary coach Thomas Billups and produced such players as Monta Ellis, Tang Hamilton, Octavius Neal, Charles Rhoads, Darius Rice, Cornell Warner and many others.

But don't just stop there. How about these other players from Jackson schools.

Randy Bolden, Maurice Carter  of Forest Hill, Ricky Short, Lindsey Hunter, Othello Harrington, James Robinson, Jesse Pate and Mo Williams of Murrah, David Sanders and Justin Reed of Provine, Harvey Catchings of Jim Hill and Malik Newman of Callaway.

Not to mention Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Timmy Bowers of Gulfport, Devin and Melvin Booker of Moss Point, Terence Davis of Southaven, Derrick McKey of Meridian.

And in district you had such great players as Jerod Ward of Clinton and Glen Whisby of Brookhaven.

Whisby, who went on to star at Southern Miss and then overseas, died of a heart attack at the age of 45. Whisby, who played for the Golden Eagles from 1991 to 1995, was fifth all-time in rebounds (1,009) at Southern Miss, and had the second-most offensive rebounds (393) in school history behind only Clarence Weatherspoon.

Look, I know I don't have to defend Martin, who is also my first cousin.

Just like other coaches, he was thrown into a difficult situation when North Natchez and South Natchez consolidated.

And he was not the popular choice to be Natchez High's first coach.

Most wanted Sam West, who would go on to be head men's basketball coach at Alcorn State.

Sam remains a great friend, and I would have had no problem at all if he would have been named head Bulldog coach.

I was covering a North Natchez basketball game in that unique gym you walk down into as the Rams were feasting on another opponent. 

North was up for about 30 and there were three minutes remaining. It was past 10 p.m. and I was having to push it to make deadline that night. I eased behind the North Natchez bench and whispered to Sam, asking if I could get a couple of comments from Herman Carroll and Kelvin Knight, his top two players.

Sam gave that quick sly smile, darting his eyes here and there while giving me that “I really don’t want to do this look” before relenting. "Go ahead, but don't let anybody see you."

Mission accomplished.

Mike was getting offers from other places -- with Ferriday High throwing out the red carpet, just for one.

Mike believed in fundamentals and X's and O's. And defense.

Sure, he probably could have changed some things up along the way.

But that wasn't Mike's way.

And Mike wasn't just a coach to his players -- he was a father figure and friend.

Many times he helped out members of his team in one way or another.

And he had his team over to he and wife Rita's house many a day for a feast or simple barbecue.

Sure, you have some who were not on the final Bulldog roster and others who still hold a grudge to this day.

However, that coaching style is what got the hardware into the Natchez High trophy case.

Because once you start bowing to fan or player pressure, you've lost your team.

And did you really want to get into a run and jump game with those Jackson teams?

And I can promise you the players who played for him are still loyal to him this day. And many still keep in touch.

As a matter for fact, John Franklin, who was 1990 All-Metro Player of the Year reached out through Facebook last week.

When Mike's name was brought up, Franklin wrote, "He (Martin) truly has no idea how he impacted/saved my life. I’m currently a food an beverage director for 6 golf courses I able to lead my team in large part because of things that he instilled in me.. He was a great leader."

And then there were the trips to the tournaments such as the Big Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Sunkist Tournament in Lafayette, the prestigious King Cotton Tournament in Pine Bluff, Ar.

Natchez upset Booker T. Washington of Tulsa, Ok., which was led by Ryan Humphrey.

I received letters from people who organized those tournaments talking about how well-dressed, well-mannered and well-behaved the Natchez High team was and how much they enjoyed having those players. 

As for the basketball itself -- hit the brakes.

In basketball, high school teams set a goal before the season of winning at least 20 games.

Under Mike Martin, Natchez High teams won 20 games nine times in the first 11 years, going back to 1989.

 That’s saying a lot considering the brand of basketball played in Mississippi the past several years, the number of high-profile tournaments Natchez has participated in and contests across the river with Ferriday and Vidalia.

Through the years, Natchez has been in the same district with the likes of Warren Central, Hattiesburg, Meridian, Clinton and Murrah.

In 2000, Natchez had to compete against Provine, Forest Hill and Jim Hill.

Here’s another impressive statistic.

In its first 11 years, Natchez competed at South State eight times.

The Bulldogs went to the Big House (state tournament at Mississippi Coliseum) four times in its first five years.

Of course the most memorable season was 1993-94 when the most unlikely bunch of Bulldogs defeated Jackson Lanier for the state championship.

Natchez returned only one full-time starter in guard Timothy Hooker.

Lanier had Nichols, Clinton was returning its two best players in Jerod Ward and Doug Williams. Forest Hill had Randy Bolden and Maurice Carter.

And defending champion Harrison Central returned most of its team from the year before.

Seven Bulldog players with experience were lost to graduation the year before and all-star guard Donald Jones moved to Texas.

Natchez lost its best player from last year in James West and Ja’Kel Foster (who went on to star at Ohio State) moved to another state.

That championship team did have Jimmy Walton and Javis Johnson, two of the hardest-working players who gave it their all each time out.

David Hayward is now the head boys basketball coach at Natchez High.

Hayward was groomed by Martin.

And Hayward actually had to go at it alone at times.

Which prompted Martin to stop by and help out where he could for his long-time friend.

Hayward, who just completed his fifth year as head coach, came within two wins of making it to the state championship game this past season.

The Bulldogs lost to Jackson Wingfield 58-54 in the quarterfinals.

Hopefully, Hayward as nice and classy a guy as you will ever meet, will experience winning a state championship at Natchez High.

Unfortunately, that will not be good enough for some people.

But you will find that in almost any kind of debate, especially sports.

Hopefully one day we can come up with the same type of Facebook page on this side of the river.

I can see it now --- who was better, Nathaniel Williams or Keith Woodside.

Uh, not with a 10-foot pole my friend, not with a 10-foot pole.

  

 

 

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