A year ago, there was one high-major talent in the 2014 class in Mississippi.
Moss Point’s Devin Booker, a McDonald’s All-American who is now at Kentucky, was the lone standout then.
That’s not the case this year.
By now, you’ve heard a lot about Callaway’s Malik Newman. Newman, one of the top high school players in Mississippi history, has led the Chargers to three straight championships, averaging about 30 points last season.
But he’s not the only senior turning heads in the state. Southaven’s Terence Davis and Velma Jackson’s Quinndary Weatherspoon have both developed into high-major talents.
Weatherspoon’s shooting ability and athleticism helped turn a small school on a random country road in Camden into a budding dynasty by winning back-to-back 3A titles (2013, 2014).
Where Davis plays, it’s easy to be overlooked by powerhouse programs in the talent-rich metro areas of Memphis. But it’s hard to ignore the 6-foot-4 guard’s junior stats — 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals.
As a sophomore, Southaven coach Todd Arnold referred to Davis as a “puppy,” who struggled with his coordination.
Soon, he would become an alpha dog.
During a game against DeSoto Central, Davis grabbed a defensive rebound and drove up the middle of the floor. He then planted one foot inside the free throw line and slammed a jaw-dropping dunk.
“When you witness those moments, you know you’re seeing something special,” Arnold said. “It takes guts in a big game to make that play. He was only a sophomore and was able to attempt and complete the play and immediately swing momentum in our favor to win the game.”
Last season, Weatherspoon’s 16.7 points and 5.7 rebounds were impressive, but his coach uses Newman as motivation for his star player.
“I try to motivate him that in the eyes of other people, he’s No. 2,” Velma Jackson coach Anthony Carlyle said. “You’ve got to come in and work to prove that you’re one of the best to come through Mississippi.”
After their junior seasons ended, Newman took some time away from the Jackson Tigers, the traveling basketball team he plays on with Weatherspoon. That afforded Weatherspoon the opportunity to show his skills to recruiters.
In taking over the lead role, Weatherspoon became a top-150 player.
“Playing without Malik helped me find my game and figure out a way to get my team the win,” Weatherspoon said. “I put up some good numbers. When you’re playing against the top competition, you have to show that you can really score.”
More than anything, Carlyle hopes the senior’s confidence earned against on the national stage will carry over into Weatherspoon’s quest for a third state title.
“Once he had big performances against those top-tier players, it gave him a sense of belonging,” Carlyle said. “His game spoke for itself.”
With Newman, those performances have come routinely in the last four seasons.
“He so badly wants to win that he’ll take it on the shoulders if it doesn’t go his way,” Callaway coach David Sanders said. “That’s why during a lot of games last year when we were down 10 or 12 points with a 1:30 to go, you look up at the scoreboard and — boom — he just turns it on.”
Newman jumped to an elite level earlier than everyone in Mississippi’s 2015 class.
In search of his fourth state title, the five-star guard knows his role with the Chargers has to change. He’s a senior now.
That means not just leading by example.
“I learned when I was a captain for USA Basketball that I need to be a more vocal leader,” Newman said. “This year, I’ve been doing a better job of that by getting guys into their spots, lifting them up … and letting them know the things they’re doing right and the things they’re doing wrong.”
There are five months left for each of them to leave their footprint in Mississippi basketball history.
How would they like to do that?
“I’d love to get the chance to play against Malik Newman,” Davis said.
And what game is Weatherspoon looking forward to the most this season?
“Callaway. The game here and the game there,” Weatherspoon said.
Contact Courtney Cronin at email@example.com. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.