By Robert Wilson
Photos by Robert Smith

         While most everyone else was sleeping, Jackson Prep boys basketball coach Tim Wise and his star player, Cam Brent, was preparing for the MAIS Overall Tournament championship game.

         Wise woke up at 1 a.m. studying tape of Wednesday night’s opponent, Jackson Academy, and stayed up throughout the night, preparing for the Raiders.

         Brent, Wise’s 5-foot-7 senior point guard, was up at Prep’s gym at 5:45 a.m., with his dad, Jackson State men’s basketball coach Wayne Brent, to get in one final workout of his high school career.

         Wise and Brent both likely slept well Wednesday night after Prep defeated JA 43-32 to win the Overall title before an estimated 3,000 fans at Mississippi College in Clinton.

         Class 6A state champion Prep finished 29-7 and won its first boys Overall state title since 2012. Prep defeated JA in all three meetings this season and beat JA for the sixth consecutive time. JA, the third-place team from Class 6A, finished 27-14.

         Wise, along with assistant Zach Allison, were up late, continuing to make sure they were prepared for whatever JA and coach Josh Brooks was going to bring at them. Brooks’ team had upset defending Overall champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy and star junior guard Josh Hubbard in Monday’s semifinals and wanted to knock off Prep for the Overall title. The preparation paid off as Prep seemed to know where JA’s players were going when they ran plays. Prep jumped out to a 19-7 lead after the first quarter and JA never recovered.

         “The quick start certainly was very beneficial tonight,” said Wise, who won his first Overall in his fifth year at Prep after 14 years as head coach at Millsaps College. “Our ability to explore in transition and have the ball move and find open shooters in the early going provided a strong boost and set the tone. The size of JA was a major concern. Our guys had to prepare for a day and a half of practice with a hard hat mentality to defend and rebound down in the ditch. We were able to make it difficult in the first quarter with some turnovers in our approach and strong contest of post touches, allowing a few more opportunities. Our guys took advantage of those extra chances.”

         Once Prep got the lead, Brent – who can control a game with his dependable ball-handling skills – made sure the Patriots didn’t lose it. Brent finished with 10 points, 6 assists, 6 steals and 6 rebounds.

         “My teammates and coaches deserve all the credit,” Brent said. “When I first came to Jackson Prep, people laughed at me for saying I would bring a championship to the school. So it’s good to see me keep my word. My teammates were ready to step up when the defense was denying me the ball. All those 5 a.m. workouts since my freshman year every morning paid off. I am happy for the whole Prep family. It’s been many years since the school has won a championship for basketball. Coach Wise is the best coach I’ve ever had, and I want to thank him for pushing me to be a better player and person every day.”

         Two more seniors joined Brent in double figure scoring.

         Walker Craddock – a 6-foot-4 senior forward who had back-to-back 16-point games in the quarterfinals and semifinals – had 10 points and five rebounds. Haddon McLeod, a 6-2 senior forward, had 10 points, two points short of his career high and six points more than his scoring average this season. He had three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game to ignite Prep off to a quick start.

         “I could not be prouder and more pleased with this group and in particular, this group of seniors,” Wise said. “These guys were sophomores in 2020, when we were fortunate to be in this same game (lost to Simpson Academy for the Overall championship). They saw what former players like Alexander Payne, Andrew Purvis and Sam Buchanan had put in place for the enjoyment of the grind, as we like to call it. This game honors toughness, mentally much, more so than the physical toughness and our seniors revealed that resolve throughout their three-year journey.”

         Kam Beverly, a 6-5 junior guard, and Graham Stevens, a 6-7 senior forward, led JA with 11 points each.

         “Prep is a great team. They play extremely hard on both ends and they are one of the best ball control teams I’ve seen,” said Brooks, who finished his fourth season at JA and was an assistant at Hillcrest Christian when the Cougars won Overall in 2001. “Prep doesn’t make turnovers and they’re happy to keep the ball on offense for minutes at a time. Getting down early to a team like that makes it nearly impossible to mount a comeback. Congratulations to Prep. They showed great determination and toughness. I don’t think there is any doubt that they were the best team in the MAIS all year long.

         “I couldn’t be prouder of my team. These guys learned how to love each other and to do the little things necessary for success. I told my team before the game that God writes a story for our lives. He is in control and directs everything for His glory and our good. While this loss definitely stings, I am confident that through the joys and disappointments of this season, God has been working and will continue to work in our team to develop men that love God and love others. Men that will be leaders in the families and in their communities.”