By Thomas Sellers Jr. (Sports Commentary)
Entering the basketball season, I was looking forward to Senior Night and the calendar turning over to February 2019 for the Millington Trojans.
Loaded with experienced talent, role players and pieces to fit a perfect puzzle, picking the Millington Trojans to win District 15-2A was sneaky, smart.
With seniors like Chris Parker, Jonathan Grandberry, Jamerio Jones, Cameron Craft, Hunter Klutts, Taveon Collier and Bobby Macklin contributing on and off the court, the Trojans were primed for a special run in 2018-19. My pick of the Trojans to finish in the top 3 of the league was looking good with more than 10 wins before December 31. Then underclassmen like Kaveyon Lewis and Jayden Woodard stepping up made me feel even better about my selection of Millington to easily grab a spot in Regionals.
But as February got underway Friday night, the Trojans, Millington faithful and this reporter left the William Osteen Gymnasium a little dejected. The Trojans once again suffered a District 15-2A defeat in a game they could have won.
This time the Haywood Tomcats were the victors 50-45 dropping Millington to 2-6 in league play.
“We got better in some aspects,” Millington Head Coach Jewell Gates said. “We rebounded a little better. Just sometimes down the stretch of a game, we don’t make good decisions on the basketball court. When you don’t make good decisions on the basketball court, you don’t win games against a quality team.
“They don’t make many mistakes, not IQ mistakes,” he continued. “We make mistakes sometimes out of laziness that’s on offense. We’ll throw a little lazy pass and that pass will get picked off. Then we won’t bust our behind on the other end to try to get the ball back. That’s a little bit of laziness too.”
Millington wasn’t lazy in the early moments of the game. Feeding off the energy of Senior Night, Hunter Klutts drained a pair of triples early helping Millington take an 8-4 lead.
Then the Tomcats kept a close eye on Klutts and made the senior guard get into foul trouble. Klutts fouled out of the contest in the fourth quarter.
Haywood outscored the Trojans 13-6 the rest of the first quarter to take a 17-14 lead into the second quarter. Both teams were sluggish offensively in the second period with the Tomcats nursing a 23-19 lead at the break.
In the third quarter the interior players of the Trojans kept them close. Collier made a bucket early in the frame to cut the Haywood lead to 25-21. His fellow senior Macklin hit pair of baskets later in the third with Haywood ahead 35-28.
In the fourth quarter Millington finally took the lead when Lewis made a free throw to give the Trojans a 40-39 advantage.
Then Haywood outscored Millington 11-5 down the stretch including hitting a technical foul shot. Once again the Trojans fell victim to crucial turnovers and mental miscues.
“When you get to February, you are who you are,” Gates said. “In November you can be somebody and then be somebody else later on. February is now.
“Unfortunately we are who we are as far as our decision making process,” he added. “We’re going to try to improve it over the next two weeks. But its stuff that has to be done on the floor. It can’t be done on the sideline.”
The staff of Gates, Brian Johnson and Nick Buford have put in the hours to compile detail scouting reports. The drills and hours of work in practice have been there.
Millington has taken on high level competition in preparation for the district schedule. The Trojans have players good enough to win the league. And another key factor, Millington had the experience needed to finish first in District 15-2A.
“They’re seniors,” Gates concluded. “There is no excuse. That’s the bad part is they probably don’t understand that. We’ve been saying that the past couple of weeks, ‘It’s coming to an end.’ You’ve got to do something to extend it as far as you can. And some of us are not.”
The 2018-19 District 15-2A Basketball Tournament will be played in Millington. Now the host Trojans have some work to do just to make it to Regionals. In order to grab one of the top four spots, Millington had to win one of the play-in game.
From top to bottom, the Trojans can play with Covington, Haywood, Fayette-Ware, Bolivar and Ripley. Even more Millington can beat all those teams on any given night.
Home court advantage and support of Flag City can be the extra edge the Trojans need to do something special and earn a championship.
But it starts with the young men wearing the black and gold. They have to believe they can do it and go out and execute. The fans, coaches, parents, alumni, students, administrators, faculty and this reporter can’t want it for them. It’s going to take all those on the roster to work together and support each other throughout the rest of February to possibly play in March.