By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Since Russ Jones has inherited the Brighton Middle School Lady Cardinal Basketball program, he has experienced championship success.
Behind the talents of players like Danielle Collins, Aubree Jones, Makayla Rose, Lamia Udley, Currie McIntyre and Gabby Crawford, Jones has guided Brighton to championships and Sectional appearances since 2012.
But this past season had similar results with a little something extra special. The 2014-15 BMS Lady Cardinals went 17-0 in the regular season, the first time in school history setting the consecutive wins in a row record. Brighton was 18-0 before losing in a thriller 32-27 to rival Crestview in the WTAC Regional finals. The Lady Cardinals reached Sectionals again and the Hickory Ridge squad out of Memphis were able to pull away from the Brighton late to win 43-32. Despite those last two outcomes, Jones said this year’s Brighton team is among the best of all-time in the school’s history. Many didn’t expect his team to set all the records after losing talent like Crawford, Udley and McIntyre.
“I really thought we had a chance to be really good again,” Jones said. “I knew we were going to have a lot of speed. I knew we were going to have to change from what we did last year of pounding it down low to Gabby and Lamia. We were all about, you remember Nolen Richardson’s “40-Minutes of Hell?” We were 24-Minutes of Hell. It was up-tempo and speeding the game up.”
The main spark plug for this year’s Lady Cardinals was guard Taliyah Brown. The guard was among the best in the WTAC this year and she set the table for Jones’ defense/offense.
“The best player in the district was Taliyah Brown,” he said. “She’s my point guard. She has great potential and will be a great high school player. She can reach the next level. She carried us all year.
“We had some other girls who were really good too,” Jones continued. “We had a great run. We pressured people a lot in middle school. We kept the pressure up and got a lot of turnovers. We just tried to win on the defensive end. We let our defense set up our offense.” The strategy of the Lady Cardinals led to total dominance of the competition. Brighton averaged more than 40 points a game and usually held opponents around 20 points. The trend the suffocated the competition continued in the first game of the tournament when Brighton beat rival Munford 41-20. Then it was time to face Crestview for the championship. The Lady Chargers suffered two defeats to Brighton closing the margin in the second game. Crestview’s game plan was to slow things down and kept the fast Lady Cardinals under control. The Lady Chargers were able to jump out to an early lead and nurse the advantage throughout the game to upset Brighton.
“It was a still a good run,” Jones said. “I told them, ‘You didn’t get the tournament title. You did some historical things and you got the regular season title. You ran the table.’”
No other Brighton team has ever gone unbeaten in the regular season until the 2014-15 squad. The new school record for consecutive wins is now 18. And his year’s Lady Cardinals made it three straight trips to Sectionals. Jones has enjoyed success at Brighton with Cardinal Boys Track winning several titles in the early 2000s. And now as the leader of the Lady Cardinal Basketball program, Jones said this year’s achievements not only added to his trophy case. This year’s BMS Lady Cardinals have a special place in his heart.
“The thing I’ll probably remember the most about this team, they genuine care about each other,” he concluded. “They played for each other. They’re very unselfish. They just loved to play together. You could just tell they really love each other and care for each on and off the court. It was like family.”
The 2014-15 Lady Cardinals are Mary Grace Smith, Larie King, Haley Simpson, Sylvia Jones, Jamison McIntyre, Ali Gover, Taliyah Brown, Markesha Stephens, Jaliyah Brown, Jade Howard, MacKenzie Winnans, Emma Jolly, Andi Kate Coulston, Albanie Dunn, Alexie Griffin, Shanta Terry, Assistant Coach John Smith and Head Coach Russ Jones