Robert Wilson spent 23 years at The Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News as a sportswriter with more than half of those years covering high school sports, mostly in the Metro Jackson area. He helped choose the All-Metro teams in various sports for more than a decade. Wilson has rebirthed this team this year with Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard All-Metro Jackson Boys and Girls Basketball Teams with 20players and a Coach and Player of the Year on each team. With the help of high school and college coaches, Wilson selected the best players and best coaches for the 2019-2020 season from Hinds, Madison and Rankin Counties.
By Robert Wilson
Photography by Robert Smith, Chris Todd/Chris Todd Photography and Tim Ward/Pictures Are Ready
Two point guards – one current and one former – are the winners of the top awards in the first Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard All-Metro Jackson Boys Basketball Team.
Callaway junior point guard Daeshun Ruffin has been named the Player of the Year and St. Andrew’s coach Brian Cronin, a former point guard at Clinton High and Madison-Ridgeland Academy, has been named the Coach of the Year.
The 5-foot-9 Ruffin, considered one of the top junior guards in the country, averaged 26.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.9 steals and led Callaway to a 25-5 record – undefeated against Mississippi teams — and the Class 5A state championship, a No. 1 Mississippi and No. 38 national final ranking by MaxPreps. Ruffin shot 50 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3-point range (averaging 2.2 per game), and 76.7 percent from the free throw line.
Cronin guided St. Andrew’s, which played in one of the toughest districts in the state, to the Class 3A state championship and a 29-6 record. The Saints defeated defending state champion Velma Jackson 61-40 in the championship game.
Ruffin burst onto the high school basketball scene as a freshman. He averaged 19.6 points and led Callaway to a 25-6 record and the Class 5A state semifinals. As a sophomore, Ruffin averaged 26.4 points and led the Chargers to a 21-8 record and the 5A state quarterfinals. Hetook it to another level this season. And so did Callaway, playing in showcase games across the country. Ruffin showed off his game as well. He averaged 30.1 points in eight games across the South. Ruffin had only one game below 27 points with highs of 37 points twice. Callaway had a 5-3 record against some of the best teams in the country and Ruffin going up against some of the best players in the country.
“I improved this year by making better decisions on my shot attempts and also understood the game and how to be effective on and off the ball,” Ruffin said. “Our state championship was an effort from every person on the roster. It started way back in August of last year. Everybody decided that we were going to do what it takes despite egos and everything. Team effort for sure.
“The atmosphere was really crazy in every out of state game and to be able to showcase my talent and my teammates talent and abilities was great.”
Ruffin’s coach, David Sanders, was in Ruffin’s shoes in the late 1990s at Provine. A 6-3 guard, Sanders was the 1998 Mississippi Player of the Year and led Provine to a 37-1 record, the 5A state title and a No. 25 ranking in the final USA Today national Top 25 poll. Sanders went on to help Ole Miss to a NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 finish and a No. 9 national ranking in 2001.
“Daeshun really matured as a player this year. He understood when to take shots and when to pass,” Sanderssaid. “He learned how to beat defenses and double teamsand become an unstoppable force. Daeshun is on another level. He is on his way to being a McDonald’s All-American.”
Sanders compares Ruffin to two Jackson Public School greats, former McDonald’s All-American and NBA star MontaEllis of Lanier, who many consider the greatest player to come out of JPS and Mississippi, and former two-time Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year Andre Stringer, Forest Hill’s career scoring leader. Ellis is the only player in JPS history to jump from high school to the NBA and Stringer went on to be a double figure scorer at LSU.
Ruffin has 2,177 career points with one year to go. That ranks him third in Callaway history behind Malik Newman (3,108) and Deville Smith (2,538). Ellis scored a JPS high of 4,167 career points.
Ruffin scored a career-high 50 points, hitting 11 of 14 from 3-point range, in an 83-47 victory over Ridgeland as a sophomore last season. Ruffin didn’t start because it was Senior Night and played only two and half quarters.
“Daeshun’s lateral movement and quickness are the basketball’s version of Tyreek Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs,” Sanders said. “His ball-handling skills are like (All-NBAguard) Kyrie Irving and he’s as explosive as (former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook). I have seen Daeshun finish over 7-footers with ease. I have never seen anyone with the ability to consistently slow him down one-on-one. He was the second leading scorer on the 17-and-under EYBL circuit last year and was the only player on the whole circuit getting double teamed.”
Ruffin did all of this without having a home gym to practice and play games in. The Callaway gym, on the school’s campus on Beasley Road in Northeast Jackson, was being renovated during the basketball season. The Chargers practiced at Rowan Middle School and played their home games at Northwest Jackson Middle School, both schools about 10-12 miles from Callaway.
Cronin, a 5-11 point guard in high school, helped Clinton High to the Boys State Tournament as a sophomore. He transferred to MRA in the middle of his junior year. Cronin helped MRA to the MAIS Overall state championship as a senior in 1999. He played one year at Holmes Community College and two years at Mississippi College. Cronin also played tennis at Holmes and MC.
Cronin’s first coaching job was in 2006 when he became an assistant for MRA coach Richard Duease, who is now the winningest high school boys and girls basketball coach in Mississippi history. Duease also coached Cronin as a high school player. Cronin helped Duease win three Overall state titles from 2007-2009 then Cronin was offered his first head coaching job at St. Andrew’s in 2009. He has had seven 20 win seasons in his 11 years and two state titles, this year and one in 2018. This year’s 29 wins was a school record. Cronin has led the Saints to three straight Final Fours.
“The game of basketball has given me so much in life,” Cronin said. “Relationships, discipline, teamwork and education. I feel it’s a great way to give back and it keeps my competitive juices going. So many coaches influenced my life for good and I remember them more than anyone so hopefully I can make a small difference in a young person’s life.”
Cronin’s head coaches were Brent Cofield (Clinton junior high), Joel Boone (Clinton High), Duease (MRA), Todd Kimble (Holmes CC) and Mike Jones and Don Lofton (MC).
Cronin’s coaching job this season was remarkable, especially in the playoffs. He returned three starters while defending state champion Velma Jackson and state contender and last year’s state semifinalist Yazoo County – both in the same district as St. Andrew’s – both returned all five starters.
“We set our expectations high from the end of last year after we lost to Holly Springs in the Final Four game,” Cronin said. “We felt we should have been at least in the championship game. Our team started work immediately after spring break of 2019 to get ready for this year. We knew it would be a tremendous challenge with three of the final four teams of 2019 in our district. We preached that it doesn’t matter what we do during the regular season it matters if we are getting better every day and hopefully by the end we are playing the best ball we can play.
“I was so proud of the belief, determination and resilience that we showed as the year went on because there are always trials and obstacles to overcome. The great teams recognize when even winning games they must improve each day and I felt like this team did that each week.”
After finishing 23-5 in the regular season, it was time for the rugged district tournament where three of the four teams would advance to South State. St. Andrew’s lost to Yazoo County in overtime but eliminated Crystal Springs to advance. Then, the Saints won five straight to take the title.
“I felt great going into the playoffs and told our team that this is the time to make our run,” Cronin said. “We lost to Yazoo City twice at the buzzer and beat them once at the buzzer. Velma beat us at the buzzer once so we felt like if we could just focus on cleaning up our mistakes that we could beat them. They are both great programs and if you are going to beat them you have to play a near perfect game.
“Our guys really felt like everyone was overlooking them despite being in the mix of the things the last three years so they carried that chip on their shoulder and we were counted out of the playoffs before it started. We loved the challenge and responded quite well to it evidently.”
Cronin’s star player, junior point guard Rashad Bolden, was remarkable in the playoffs.
“Rashad had a postseason run for the ages in my opinion, averaged 33 points through five games and had no turnovers in the last two games against intense pressure,” Cronin said. “Everyone else followed his lead. Jake Dowdelland Noel Wiggs stepped it up with timely performances and shooting. Arness Georgetown locked down key opposing players and Javion Johnson made a play to get Rashad the ball when he got fouled for a 4-point play to give us the lead for good vs. Yazoo in the final seconds. Everyone stepped up and did something we needed at that time. It was team championship run all the way.”
Bolden, who averaged 25.9 points this season and is a first team selection on the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard All-Metro Jackson team, gave Cronin plenty of credit for the remarkable run to the state championship. Bolden was a 14-year old, freshmen starter on Cronin’s state title team in 2018. In fact, Bolden made seven straight free throws in the final minute of the state championship game to help bring Cronin his first as a head coach and the school’s first boys basketball title two years ago.
“He is a coach who understands what it takes to be great,” Bolden said. “He doesn’t just expect us to work hard, but he works just as hard as we do. He always keeps us humble when we are doing good, but quick to motivate us when we are down. Coach Cronin was an essential part of us winning a state championship and I don’t know what we would have done without him.”
Rashad Bolden, St. Andrew’s, 6-0, Junior Guard
Josh Lee, Velma Jackson, 6-2, Junior Forward
Keondre Montgomery, Forest Hill, 6-6, Senior Forward
Isaiah Patrick, Richland, 6-0 Senior Guard
Daeshun Ruffin, Callaway, 5-9, Junior Guard
DeMarrion Arrington, Wingfield, 6-4 Senior Forward
Jeff Blackmon, Ridgeland, 5-11, Senior Guard
Jamaal Esco, Murrah, 5-11 Junior Guard
Josh Hubbard, MRA, 5-9, Freshman Guard
Jalin Rice, Madison Central, 6-2, Senior Guard
Devin Carter, Florence, 6-0 Junior Guard
Joseph Dupree, Murrah, 6-6, Junior Forward
Keivion Hunt, Callaway, 5-10, Sophomore Guard
Charlie Jones, Velma Jackson, 6-2, Senior Guard
Jabarie Robinson, Raymond, 6-0, Sophomore Guard
Tremaine Dixon, Raymond, 5-10, Sophomore Guard
Jake Dowdell, St. Andrew’s, 6-3, Sophomore Guard
Kimani Hamilton, Clinton, 6-7, Sophomore Forward
Jacquin McDonel, Florence, 6-2, Senior Guard
Devin Ree, Terry, 6-7, Sophomore Forward