Photo By Robert Smith

By Torsheta Jackson

As the final buzzer sounded in Saturday’s MAIS Class 6A title game and his girls leaped in excitement, Jackson Prep girls head coach Michael McAnally lifted both fists into the air in victory. The team had just secured their second state title in three seasons. But he didn’t have long to relish his championship win. He and the Lady Patriots are not finished. This week, they will attempt to add an Overall Tournament championship to their trophy case and earn their coach his 600th career win.

McAnally started his career at the Huntington School in Ferriday, La., in 2000. There he served as head varsity boys basketball coach, head varsity girls basketball coach, head fast-pitch softball coach, head junior high boys basketball coach and assistant baseball coach. It was at Huntington that he first met Stephen Force, head girls basketball coach at Madison-Ridgeland Academy. 

“The first time we ran across each other we played on the New Orleans Pelicans floor,” Force said. “It was a fun day. We won but I couldn’t tell you anything about it because it’s been so long ago.”

In 2003, McAnally, an Ole Miss alumnus, returned to Mississippi to coach at Copiah Academy, coaching varsity boys basketball for three years. He then received the opportunity to take over the basketball program at East Rankin Academy. 

Photo By Robert Smith

“East Rankin is a basketball school,” McAnally said. “There are schools in our association that I think people would label as basketball schools. I don’t think that’s a shot at other sports, but East Rankin just has a long and storied tradition of being good at basketball on both the boys and the girls side and I was fortunate to be the head coach on both.” 

McAnally carried on that tradition. He spent eight years there and posted a combined 349-221 record, winning two Class AAA, Division II boys titles (2008, 2010), a pair of girls division titles and a pair AAA state titles (2009, 2010), the latter of which ended with an Overall championship.

“We had some great years there, certainly highlighted in 2010 with Brooke Rhodes who was the two-time Player of the Year,” said McAnally. “We just had a masterful run that year and won the overall.”

Even with his outstanding success at ERA, the allure of returning to his alma mater was too good to turn down. McAnally accepted the position as the head girls coach at Jackson Prep in 2014. 

“I had told myself that there were really only a handful of jobs that I would leave East Rankin for and obviously Prep was one of them being that it was home,” McAnally said. “Still, it was a tough decision. East Rankin had become home for me.”

At Prep, McAnally has led his team to the Overall Championship game twice – once in 2016 and again in 2020 after a state title win. They have yet to secure the title.

The Lady Patriots have quietly been eyeing this tournament since their loss to Pillow Academy in the 2020 Overall Championship game. They now have another chance at securing the title – one that Prep has not held since 2006. 

“We have seven seniors on this team, and I think if you talk to them they will tell you that they have some high expectations for this year,” McAnally said. “Anytime you talk about the success that this team is having this year, you have to look at those seniors. They are best friends, and that chemistry and bond carries over onto the floor. They play well together.”

Winning an overall title with the Lady Patriots will bring a particular sweetness for McAnally. The Prep alumnus played for the 1996 boys basketball team that won an Overall. 

“It was certainly a special time, and our team was not just a super talented team,” the former point guard said. “We were a good team, but we didn’t have a star. We really did it by committee. We had 8 seniors on that team and really good leaders. We were the true definition of team success.”

Although this year’s Lady Patriots team definitely has a standout player, their success is still deeply rooted in that same team concept. 

“They have a really great player and several fantastic role players around her that she really makes better, and they make her better because of the roles that they play,” Force said. “They know their roles and they execute their roles perfectly. All his girls know who the best player is, but they also know that without each other their individual roles that they have, they wouldn’t be as good as they are. They are what you would call a complete team.”

The team went 33-2 en route to the 6A state title Saturday, the second of their high school playing career and the eighth in the history of the program. The Lady Patriots beat Hartfield Academy 36-28. Andie Flatgard led the team scoring with 13 points followed by senior Josie Duncan with eight points. Flatgard, Duncan and teammates Kennedie Sanders, and Julia Stradinger contributed six rebounds each. Sanders, a junior, also picked up three steals in the win while senior Olivia Smith had two blocks.

“We’ve just got all the pieces. We’ve got one of the best, if not the best player in the league in Andie Flatgard,” McAnally said. “We’ve got good shooting guards. We’ve got size in the post to help defend the post. We are very offensively skilled, but they are also a team that has bought into defending.”

That signature McAnally defense is well-known by his opponents around the league.

“Coaching against Coach McAnally, you always have to prepare thoroughly,” Force said. “More so on offense end because you know he is going to be so well-prepared on the defensive end. You’ve got to always be ready to counter whatever he throws at you. He has been blessed with some very good players both at East Rankin and at Prep now and he always finds a way to get the ball to his best player in the right spots.”

Photo By Robert Smith

That player is Flatgard. The Alabama-Huntsville signee is the first girls basketball player to sign a letter of intent at Prep since the early nineties. She averaged 17.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game this season. 

“Andie is our leader. She is vocal in practice and vocal in games. Andie leads by example,” McAnally said. “And she is truly the total package. Andie is a point guard who handles the ball well and receives the ball well. She passes well. Andie is a very good shooter and can shoot the three or attack the basket and get that 10-to-15 footer.” 

There have been some comparisons made between Flatgard and Rhodes, who are arguably the two best players McAnally has ever coached. He arranged for the two to meet at one point. The ladies discussed recruiting and of course basketball. 

“Coach Rhodes was previously a coach at the Division 1 level so, of course, I wanted any advice she had,” Flatgard said. “We hope to be Coach Mac’s second Overall champion. Her team was the first.”

Rhodes is excited about the young guard’s potential.

“She is a student of the game and that is going to help her down the road,” Rhodes said. “Flatgard can play. She is way quicker than I ever thought about being and plays defense way better than I ever thought about playing. She is fun to watch.”

Rhodes, now head girls coach at East Rankin, where her grandfather, Billy Rhodes, coached for many years and has the gym named after him. Rhodes played McAnally early in the season. Her former coach’s style hadn’t changed much at all.

“His teams are always so good because he is going to do what he does so well,” Rhodes said. “They are going to box out every time. They are going to make the right passes and know the right reads. He is going to have them prepared and other teams scouted.”

McAnally could often be found in the stands, watching Rhodes during her college playing or coaching days. She credits McAnally with much of the success she has had in both her playing and coaching career. Now on opposing sidelines, their relationship has changed from player and coach to mentor and mentee. 

“When I first moved back here, I texted him and we met up to talk about some basketball stuff,” said Rhodes. “There have been several times that I’ve called him and asked his opinion of what he would do. Coach McAnally is one of the best to ever do it.”

She even now takes her team to a local restaurant during the Christmas Holiday break – just like her former high school coach did for her team.

“I always thought that was something special that he would pay for us to all go eat,” said Rhodes, who played at Delta State and Southern Miss after graduating from East Rankin. “He was hard, but we always knew that he loved us and cared for us.”

It is that character that makes McAnally so well-respected amongst his players and peers. 

“He has a very high character and moral standard,” said Force. “He is a man of integrity, an honest person and will give you the shirt off his back to help you.”

Photo By Robert Smith

McAnally expects those same attributes of his team. They are known for having high academic standards and good behavior. Many of the girls play other sports and are involved in student organizations at prep. They are also active in the community in local churches and service organizations. 

“Coach Mac has high expectations for every player personally and for us as a team,” said Flatgard. “He holds us to them every day.”

“I always tell the girls that ‘I hope the things that are important to me are important to you,’” McAnally added. “It’s the little things.”

There is no doubt that they all agree on what is important in the week ahead – focusing on their ultimate goal to win it all. 

“Our team is hungry for four more wins,” Flatgard said after the state championship win. “We have the number 4 written on our white board in our locker room. Winning the state championship takes us one step closer to that final goal, and my group could not be more ready. We’ve dreamt of hanging a banner since eighth grade and we plan on doing so March 2nd.”

The next step is Tuesday when McAnally and his team play host to Humphreys Academy at 6 p.m. in a first round Overall Tournament game at Prep.