By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Sometimes the best Christmas gifts come from oneself.
Back in December the Munford Cougars hosted the 2014 Munford Christmas Classic with teams like MLK Prep, Wooddale and Memphis Metro coming to town.
Prior to the Classic, the host Munford Cougars were still going through an adjustment phase with young players and Head Coach Butch Hopkins trying to make up for lost time after his summer heart surgery.
That combination led to the early part of the season starting off rough for the Cougars.
“My kids, they’ve finally bought in,” Hopkins said. “Early in the season, they thought they could run up and down the floor, jack it up and shoot it. I told them, ‘You’re not going to be able to play that way.’ They didn’t want to listen. But after three or four 30-point losses, they decided they might listen. When they did they started playing people very close.”
And the three games in the Munford Christmas Classic started to produce victories for the Cougars.
“We held the tempo down, started controlling the ball,” Hopkins recalled. “Our defense started getting better. Edward started getting better. He was a physical presence in the middle. Finally one of the little guards in there said, ‘Coach, if we do what you say, we have a chance to beat anybody.’”
After picking up two District 13-3A road wins over Brighton and Hardin County this month, Munford took on the MHEA Eagles Jan. 20 in the Munford Gymnasium. The Cougars jumped out to a large lead with their strategy and ended up 48-37 victors.
“The major thing we wanted to do was control the tempo of the game and make it a half court basketball game,” Hopkins said. “The one thing that we have really been working on the past three weeks in our defense. We have been playing great half court defense. I know we hold the ball, but we’ve been playing great defense.”
The Eagles were held to 8 points in the first half. The score was 34-18 after three quarters. MHEA tried to comeback in the fourth quarter cutting the Munford advantage to 42-34. But Cougars outscored the Eagles 6-3 down the stretch.
“We got a little careless once we got the big lead,” Hopkins acknowledged. “We’re not accustomed to having to come down without every position being a life-threatening situation. We don’t really know how to handle that kind of stuff.”
Part of the learning process in how to hold on to a big lead. Hopkins said players like Edward Estes and Deon Banks are growing with each play. Estes has seen more playing time in the last 5 games giving the Cougars an inside presence.
Banks has seen time at four positions on the floor. He his several big jumpers in the fourth quarter to keep Munford ahead.
“Our three players Queyon (Mills), Dominique (Bell) and Nigel (Jones), they’ve got to play better,” Hopkins acknowledged. “Queyon had a good stretch coming out in the third quarter.”
Hopkins said that trio is responsible for controlling the basketball and hitting the big shots like they have shown in games since December. As long the ball-control, slow down pace keeps the Cougars in games, Hopkins told fans to expect to see more of it in February.
“Sometimes you have to make it ugly and play the way you need to play,” he concluded.