It’s time to bring the heat.
The West Point based Mississippi Heat traveling basketball team have been lighting up opponents this season, compiling a 12-4 record overall and earning second, third and first place finishes in their last three tournaments this summer.
As part of Mid-America Youth Basketball, which has been organizing and promoting youth basketball tournaments since 1993, the Heat have been a stable in the organization for the last seven years under head coach Oliver Johnson.
“I just wanted to find something for the kids to do in the summer and I put up some fliers around the schools and held tryouts and it just kicked off,” said Johnson, who heard about the MAYB through a friend.
The MAYB has 170 summer tournaments involving 3700 teams from at least 27 states and 2 foreign countries.
The team, made up of 16-U teens, has grown considerably in size from it’s early years from just West Point and Aberdeen youths. They now have had players from Starkville, Baldwin, New Hope and Columbus. The boys will try and play at least four tournaments during the summer season, mostly out of town. But Johnson said they try to play in a local tournament once every two weeks.
The Heat have had some success in recent years, which included a trip to the national tournament in Wichita, KS in 2008. Out of the four tournaments played, they won three and finished second once.
The qualifications are pretty simple; teams need to get victories and have solid stats as well as finish high in the tournaments they play in.
“You need to perform well in a couple of tournaments or at least rank high enough in some tournaments for them to feel that your competitive enough to come and play,” Johnson said. He feels this year’s team has a shot to get back.
Tryouts are held every season, and because of the popularity of the team and with the boys wanting to play multiple sports, Johnson said its hard to have the same team every year.
The Heat practice once a week for a season that lasts from April until August and Johnson tries to makes the most out of the few hours he gets to spend on the court with them by getting back to basics.
“We begin with the fundamentals,” Johnson said. (including passing, screening, how to post and rebound). “Every practice I do starts with the fundamentals. It’s just a basic core of sound basketball. I’m not a flashy type of coach. But we are going to play defense. It’s some of the simple things that we can overlook, so I go back to day one.”
And for many of the kids, who have been through the system for a while and continue to play at the high school level, all those hours of getting hounded with fundamentals pays off. Johnson says he tries to watch a least a few games of each of his players in the fall.
“You can see it, it shows, “ he said. “It’s unconscious now, they know how to do it the correct way.”
Johnson said several area coaches have applauded his efforts during the off season and have even sent of few of their players to his camps because of the success another kid was having.
But the team isn’t just about basketball.
“I try and teach not only basketball, but essentials of life,” Johnson said. “Discipline, conduct, things that are going to carry on outside basketball because we all know basketball is going to end one day.”
Johnson said the boys have had several compliments from hotel managers when they travel about how they have conducted themselves while staying there.
“I pride myself on working with kids and they can learn way more than just basketball,” he said.
The team is self funded, holding bake sales and car washes to try and raise money for tournaments that can cost roughly $300 to enter, that’s not including accommodations, food and gas. Johnson said the commitment from the parents, who drive these players across the region, have helped this team relentlessly.
The Mississippi Heat will be back in action July 8th in Paducha, KY, and hope to have a solid finish to earn another invite to nationals in August.View more articles in: