By Robert Wilson

The Raymond boys basketball team has been in the Class 4A state championship game for the past five seasons, winning three titles from 2017-2019 and having two runner-up finishes in the last two seasons. With two of the most talented guards in Mississippi returning in rising seniors Jabarie Robinson and Tremaine Dixon, the Rangers are considered the favorite in Class 4A next season. But now with the addition of 6-foot-9 Eric Paymon, Jr. considered one of the top sophomores in the state, Raymond might be the best team in Mississippi regardless of classification entering the 2021-2022 season.

Paymon played at First Love Christian Academy in Washington, Pa., this past season, Raymond coach Tony Tadlock said, but his parents live in Raymond and wanted him to be at home this next season. Paymon went to Jackson Academy before going to First Love this past year.

“He is 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, left-handed and has a 7-foot-4 wingspan,” said Tadlock, who is entering his fifth season as Raymond’s head coach. “EJ (his nickname) is a great kid. He soaks up what you tell him like a sponge. EJ Is a great listener. He is a great addition to our program. Ole Miss has already offered him this summer and many more Division I programs have shown interest in EJ.”

Tadlock had the Rangers rolling without Paymon. The 6-foot Robinson and 5-10 Dixon combined to average 41.7 points and led Raymond to a 22-6 record and a runner-up finish to Lanier for the 4A state title last season. Robinson and Dixon were selected to the second team of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson team last season. They are two of the top returning players in Mississippi and Tadlock said they are getting interest from many Division I programs.

“We played very well this summer and won every game at Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Mississippi College team camps except for a loss to Class 5A state champion Zachary, La., at Southern Miss camp,” Tadlock said. “EJ didn’t join us until the last camp at MC, but he has fit in very nicely with our team.”

Raymond will have new gym this year. Tadlock said it is expected to be finished in two months.

“It will be the nicest high school basketball facility in Mississippi,” Tadlock said. “It seats 2,000 and has a weight room, film room, team room and top of the line locker rooms.”