Updated: Mar 28, 2019
WRITTEN BY RACHEL BURCHFIELD | PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM
North Mississippi's high school basketball teams are on fire.
In the South, football is king. But in north Mississippi lately, another sport has taken center stage, or, rather, center court — basketball. North Mississippi high school basketball is booming, thanks to a recent spate of state championship appearances by a number of teams, both girls and boys, and through national recognition recently received by Arteria Clifton, coach of Okolona High School’s boys’ team. This year, with the 2019 championship tournament about to begin, many local teams are vying for first in their divisions. Take a look at a few stand-out teams’ recent successes, and meet some of the student athletes who put forth extraordinary effort on the court.
COACH ARTERIA CLIFTON
Okolona High School
Division 1A Okolona won the boys’ basketball state championship tournament.
Okolona was arguably the best boys’ basketball team in the state last season and the winner of the 1A state championship. For coach Arteria Clifton, the win was personal. Clifton is a product of the small town and has “nothing but love” for it, he said. In addition to coaching, he teaches eighth grade science and biology and coaches at the high school level. And he’s good at what he does — so much so that USA Today took notice, naming him the state’s boys basketball coach of the year.
“It’s just a blessing,” Clifton said. “There was a lot of hard work involved in that.”
Clifton has been coaching since 2002, first at the junior high level, then at the high school level coaching girls, and now at the high school level coaching boys. His players would describe his coaching style as passionate, demanding, fair and consistent, Clifton said.
“I preach discipline and hard work,” Clifton said. “I want to see kids thrive and hopefully play at the next level.”
JAMAL MOORE & JACORIUS STANFIELD
Okolona High School
Jamal Moore, 17, and Jacorius Stanfield, 19 — both seniors at Okolona — were part of last year’s state championship winning team. Winning was an exciting moment, Jacorius said, and Jamal agreed. “It made me feel proud,” Jamal said. “It’s something not everyone can have. Not everyone has that chance.” Jamal, a guard, said he fell in love with basketball in the first grade, and Jacorius, a front guard, said basketball has been a part of his life since his cousin introduced him to the game at age 10. “I just love playing,” Jacorius said.
Ripley High School
Ripley made it to the third round of the 4A girls’ basketball state championship tournament.
Basketball is all in the family for Siarra Jackson, 16, a junior forward for Ripley High School. Her grandmother played in high school, and Siarra started playing when she was little. By the time she was a teenager, she had made the team. She averages an impressive 11 rebounds per game and was selected to play in the North South All Star game in March. The best part of the season? “Scoring,” she said.
Tupelo High School
Tupelo played in the first round of the 6A boys’ basketball state championship tournament.
Senior Anthony Nichols, 17, plays small guard and power forward for Tupelo. He’s been playing since he was 5, first on Little League and recreational teams, but in middle school, he didn’t make the team. He got the last laugh, though — he’s a standout now, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game. “Basketball relieves all stress,” Anthony said. “Being on the court makes me happy.”
GARA BETH SELF
Ingomar Attendance Center
In the 2A division, the Ingomar girls’ team swept the tournament and took home a state championship victory.
For Gara Beth Self, 18, a senior front guard for Ingomar, basketball is in her blood. Her mom was a basketball player and she instilled it in her ever since she could walk. Now, she’s carrying the game on to a new generation. “I like having little kids look up to me,” Gara Beth said.
Saltillo High School
The Saltillo boys’ team made it to the third round of the 5A state championship tournament.
As soon as he laid his hands on a basketball for the first time as a fifth grade student, T.J. Hannah fell in love with the sport. The 16-year-old junior is a forward for Saltillo High School, and he boasts rebounds in the double digits, a statistic he is proud of. “I just love the game,” T.J. said.
Tupelo High School
The Tupelo girls’ team also had a run at the state championship, making it to the third round of the 6A tournament.
Every time she steps on the court, Che’mya Carouthers, 18, a junior power forward for Tupelo, is working to improve. “I have a drive to want to be better every game,” Che’mya said. But it’s not just about personal goals — also important are her teammates, being a team player and “just being out there.”