By Robert Wilson

Georgetown offered Sam Funches last August before he started the eighth grade and was still 13 years old. Kansas State offered Funches this week, joining Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley and Georgetown as Division I schools to offer the 6-foot-9 Funches and look for many more Division I schools to offer him soon.

College coaches won’t be able to find Funches at MAIS basketball powerhouse Madison-Ridgeland Academy anymore because he has transferred to MHSAA Class 6A Germantown High.

Photo by Lonnie Kees

Funches, considered one of the top rising freshman in the country and likely the best in Mississippi, will be playing this year for first-year Germantown coach Chris Love, who is trying to build a program that has never had a winning season in the school’s 12-year history.

Funches definitely will help. He was the second leading scorer and leading rebounder on MRA’s ninth grade team last season and also played some on MRA’s varsity, which featured Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year and Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Player of the Year Josh Hubbard, a rising senior and one of the top point guards in the country.

Funches was named to the first team Class of 2026 at the Southwest Elite Scouts, a national middle school combine, this past year.

Funches plays on the travel ball team, Nike Iso Joe, founded by former NBA All-Star Joe Johnson. Funches had 22 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocked shots for Nike Iso Joe in the semifinals of the 16U Orange Division this weekend at the Best of the South in Atlanta. The event was seen by coaches from 200 colleges across the country. Kansas State offered after Funches’ performance.

“For the short time I have known Sam, he is a wonderful kid and has a great family that supports him,” said Love, who won one state championship and had two state runner-up finishes in his five years at Velma Jackson before coming to Germantown. “I think Sam has the ability to play this game for a long time if he continues to work. You don’t find many players his age with that size that can do the things he can do on the court. Sam is going to bring a lot to the team this year even though he is a freshman. We aren’t going to bring him along slowly. Mississippi high school basketball fans remember Jonathan Bender (of Picayune, who went straight to the NBA out of high school and was fifth pick overall in the 1999 NBA Draft. The 6-11 Bender played eight seasons in the NBA but was slowed by knee injuries and retired in 2010). Sam might compare to Jonathan in size and build.”

Funches’ father, also named Sam, was an All-State player at long time MHSAA powerhouse Murrah in the 1990s. He was a freshman when All-American Othello Harrington was a senior at Murrah. The 6-8 Funches was rated as the ninth best power forward in the country and one of the top 50 players in the country as a senior. He signed with Connecticut and played there two years and then two years at North Texas, where he started all 26 games as a senior. Funches picked Connecticut over Georgetown, Ohio State and Arkansas, largely because Connecticut was the first to recruit him. Then associate head coach Howie Dickenman began writing letters to Funches when he was a sophomore.

Now, Funches is getting Division I offers at a much younger age than his dad.

Love inherits three returning starters from last year’s team, which finished 7-15 last season.

Photo by Lonnie Kees

Love knows all about winning, first from his father, Lewis Love, who won 607 games, one state title and three runner-up finishes in his career at Amanda Elzy, Velma Jackson, Canton, and Pearl before retiring in 2003. Chris Love played for his dad at Canton High and won a state championship as a junior in 1997, finished runner-up as a sophomore in 1996 and reached the semifinals as a senior in 1998.

Love, a Canton High, Holmes Community College and Jackson State graduate, worked in the technology department at the Canton School District before becoming an assistant coach for four years at Canton High under Melvin Gillum and was head coach for three seasons at Canton. Then Love took over at Velma Jackson. He had an 80-30 record – a 72.7 winning percentage – in those five seasons.

His state championship team – his top six players were all underclassmen – finished 25-6 and won its last 19 games to capture the MHSAA Class 3A state title in 2019. He was 28-6 and lost to St. Andrew’s in the 3A state championship game in 2020. Love guided Velma Jackson to a 17-11 record and lost to Pine Grove for the 2A state title this past season.