Monday, July 18, 2011

Sunday Conversation with.....Ole Miss DE Carlos Thompson

GREENVILLE — Get your popcorn ready.

If the Grove Bowl was any indication of what’s in store for Carlos Thompson, Ole Miss fans are in for a treat this season.

Back in April, the former Hollandale Simmons standout tallied seven tackles (including two tackles for loss) and a sack in the Grove Bowl, the school’s annual scrimmage game.

After playing in a reserve role during his freshman year, the former top recruit is hoping to hear his name on the loudspeaker more frequently this season.

“I’m expecting much more playing time,” said the defensive end, who played in seven games last season and recorded his first sack of his college career during a Nov. 6 game against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Thompson said he came to Oxford thinking he would redshirt, because “I was undersized.” But he got his first taste of college football against Tulane on Sept. 11, 2010.

He also saw action against SEC opponents Arkansas and Alabama. That experience was something players can’t grasp by just practicing, Thompson said.

“I’m glad I played,” said Thompson. “At first my play wasn’t so good. But once I started playing (more), it got better. I caught up with the tempo.”

Thompson not only grew up on the field. He grew up physically.

Thompson, or “Pooh” as his family refers to him, says he’s put on about 35 pounds since last season. The 6-foot-5 Thompson says he now weighing around 250 pounds.

“I’ve just been eating,” said Thompson, who added that Oxford’s new IHOP restaurant has been a welcomed treat.

Recently, Ole Miss has produced some of the SEC’s best defensive lineman (think Greg Hardy, Peria Jerry and Jerrell Powe, to name a few). This year’s defensive linemen will be lead by senior Kentrell Lockett, who was recently granted a sixth year of eligibility. Thompson said he’s learned a lot from Lockett and other veteran linemen on the team.

“I look up to (Lockett) like a mentor,” Thompson said. “When I need help he’s there to help me. He knows the game and he knows what needs to be done.”

Currently, Thompson says he’s just staying in shape until two-a-days start in August. Hopefully, he says, the Rebels will improve on their 4-8 (1-7 SEC) record in 2010. Last year, Ole Miss’ defensive unit gave up nearly 400 yards per game — last in the SEC. Plus, opponents averaged over 35 points per game against the Rebels.

“I feel like this year, we have more committed players,” said Thompson. “We’ll be better defensively and offensively.”

One change — other than more playing time — he can expect to see this season is a familiar face in the stands at Ole Miss road games. His father, Carlos Thompson Sr., who coached him at Hollandale Simmons High, recently resigned from his position. He made most of last year’s games in Oxford, but wasn’t able to travel to away games. Now with a more flexible schedule, the elder Thompson will be everywhere the Rebels are, said the younger Thompson.

“I know,” said the 2009 Holladanle Simmons alum, “he’s going to be in the stands a lot more this year.”

Friday, July 8, 2011

Family ties: New MVSU hoops coach has new leash on life after final year at DSU

CLEVELAND — Brian Ellis only planned to be gone for a few minutes.
The then-Delta State assistant basketball coach left his six-month pregnant wife, Courtney, at home while he went to let Phil Turner inside the gym.
“I came home and my wife was in labor,” recollected Ellis, who was recently named an assistant coach at Mississippi Valley State.
Ellis then drove his wife 35 miles to Clarksdale, where her doctor was on call.
“I drove 115 (mph) the whole way there,” remembered Ellis.
They originally thought it was just a false alarm, but it turned out, Courtney was in full-blown labor on only the first day of her third trimester.
The doctor didn’t know why Courtney, who was projected to give birth Dec. 15, was in labor three months early. She was taken to a hospital in Jackson by ambulance while coach Ellis followed suit.
The former West Florida standout, now known for his recruiting skills, couldn’t fix this situation with words.
“At that point,” said coach Ellis, “there’s nothing you can say. You can’t talk good enough (to fix the situation).”
An emergency C-section was performed, and 2-pound, 4-ounce Payton Ellis entered the world on Sept. 22, 2010.
The Ellis’ lives changed dramatically afterwards. But not just because it was their first child.
Payton was forced to stay hospitalized in Jackson while doctors monitored her improvement. And what began as a short route to let a player in the gym, resulted in a three-month stint over two hours away from home.
“We had to move to Jackson,” said coach Ellis. “It was extremely tough for my wife.....having a baby, and her not being there.
“There’d be moments where I’d wake up at 2:30 in the morning in a panic just to make sure she was ok.”
Newborn Payton was on a feeding tube surrounded by hundreds of other babies. Brian Ellis said he got a chance to know one family, whose child sat next to Payton in the neonatal intensive care unit. But just hours after speaking with them, he realized just how lucky he was.
“I was talking with them,” he remembered, “and came back four hours later and their baby had died right next to (Payton).”
To make matters worse, DSU’s season-opening basketball game was just over a month away. Ellis was committed to his family, but said he had a job to be done in Cleveland as well.
“I would drive from Jackson to Cleveland about four times a week and for every game,” reminisced Ellis, who added that he met the team in Cleveland for road games.
“It seemed like the first semester took five years.”
But those in and around the DSU athletic department, Ellis said, were right by his side. Several players along with Athletic Director Jeremy McClain made trips to Jackson to check on them.
“That’s the kind of thing that really makes it a family,” Ellis said. “It never felt like we were fighting it by ourselves.”
Some made trips to Jackson, others made phone calls. The entire time Payton was in the hospital, the DSU family stayed in contact, Ellis said.
“We wanted to be able to support them,” said McClain. “....Let them see some familiar faces.”
Ellis remembers the time he drove back to Cleveland for Alumni Day, a week after Payton’s birth. When he walked in the building, everyone stopped what they were doing and embraced him.
“It’s something strong here, and not just in the Athletic Department, but on campus,” said McClain. “And I think that’s the way it should be.”
Said DSU head basketball coach Jason Conner, “When the Lord puts us through things, there’s a reason behind it.”
Three months after entering the world three months early, Payton Ellis came home completely healthy. The family moved back to Cleveland.
“She’s now above the weight of a normal six-month-old,” Ellis said of the nine-month-old child. “She has a big time personality. The only reason I have to be scared now is because she hadn’t met a person she hasn’t liked yet.”
Now seven months after coming home, the Ellis family is making another move. This time to Greenwood for Ellis’ new job at MVSU, where he’ll get a chance to work with former DSU assistant coach Chico Potts. Ellis took over for Dylan Howard, who was named the head coach at North Park University, a Division-III school in Illinois.
“(Division-I) has been his dream,” said Conner. “I’m happy for him that he got that opportunity. I told (MVSU coach Sean) Woods that he would do a fine job there.”
Elllis’ final year at DSU allowed him to put a lot of things in perspective, he said.
“Basketball is important,” said Ellis, “but nothing can replace family.
“I can’t relate to a lot of things, but I can relate to on the verge of losing your child.”
Courtney, a massage therapist who played volleyball at West Florida, will drive back to Cleveland three times a week for work. Other than that, everything is back to normal.
After officially starting his new position July 1, Ellis is back doing what he does best: recruiting.
So how does the Crestview, Fla. native like his new stumping grounds? Well, that answer will have to wait.
“(I’m) on the road already,” Ellis wrote in a text message. “I’ll let you know in August.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sunday Conversation with...Indianola native Sam Lacey, No. 5 pick in 1970 NBA draft

GREENVILLE — Of the thousands of players to come through the NBA, only roughly 80 of them were born in Mississippi. Sort that list by those born in the Delta and it becomes miniscule.

But despite the odds, Sam Lacey won the game. And he won big.
The Indianola native, who was the No. 5 draft pick by the Cincinnati Royals in 1970, averaged 10.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in his 13-year career — most notably with the Kansas City Kings.
But before he went on to play with the likes of Tiny Archibald and Oscar Robertson, he faced local legends like Sammy Steen (Coleman High; Greenville) and Freddie Robinson (Rosa Fort High; Tunica) while at Gentry High School. Over 45 years later, the 63-year-old still vividly remembers those days.
“I remember playing against (Greenwood native) Leroy Jones,” recollected the 6-foot-10 Lacey, “and I used to see him when he came through town (Kansas City) when he played for the San Diego Chargers in football.”
Coming to Greenville to play Coleman High was always a tough game, he continued.
“Coleman just had more talent than we did,” Lacey remembered. “At that time, you were jumping the ball every quarter. There used to be a quarter where I didn't even see the ball. They pressed the whole game.
“And then we played teams like Shaw and Ruleville — those were our cupcakes. And Drew. At the time, we were in the Delta Conference and (Coleman) was in the Big Eight — the monster conference in terms of high schools. Another team that had good players was McNair High in Belzoni. Back then they had old men on the team....One of my friends told me, some of the guys you played against were 10 to 12 years older than you were. And that's a big difference when you're like 15 or 16 years old.”
Rewind back to Lacey's early years at Gentry and becoming a lottery pick in the NBA draft would have made some folks chuckle. The NBA all-star remembers the moment that changed his life forever.
His shot clanked off the backboard during a game against Hollandale Simmons — a shot his teammates and classmates didn't let him forget about.
“Back then it was wooden backboards. I thought I had broken the backboard. From then on, I said I will never get caught in that situation again.”
But not only did Lacey's skills heighten over time, so did, well, his height.
“When I graduated from grade school, I was 5-11,” he remembered. “At the end of my freshman year, I was 6-feet tall. At the end of my sophomore year, I was 6-1. But from like June to about mid-August, I grew seven inches.
“At the time a lot of kids would go to Chicago, St. Louis or Detroit for the summer. And when they came back, they said, 'I didn't know Sam had an older brother.' And I said, I'm Sam.”
Lacey went on to play for New Mexico State, where he finished with a 75-13 record over three seasons. (At that time, freshman weren't allowed to play on the varsity team.)
But how did the kid from a small Mississippi Delta town end up in New Mexico?
Lacey said a recruiter, who's name he couldn't remember, was in the area to recruit Richard Collins (Starkville) and William Ford (Greenville O'Bannon). The recruiter saw Lacey play and told then-New Mexico State head coach Lou Henson about what he saw.
“He (told Henson), if you're up here recruiting guys, there's a kid in Indianola named Sam Lacey. You need to get him,” remember Lacey, who had originally committed to Jackson State.
Lacey's most productive NBA season came in 1973-74 when he averaged 14.2 points and 13.4 rebounds. He was named an all-star in 1975 after averaging 11.5 points and 14.2 rebounds.
His jersey was retired by the Kings franchise.
“My jersey is retired everywhere but Gentry,” he said.
Nowadays, Lacey is still surrounded by the game of basketball. He has recently did TV and radio work. And he's currently part of an exploratory group to try to bring an NBA team to Kansas City.
And now the game he loves so much is at the start of an anticipated long and brutal lockout, which became official Friday. Former NBA player Charles Barkley recently said he thinks the NBA may not have a 2011-12 season.
It all boils down to money, said Lacey, who added that the only players who made over a $1 million per season during his time was those with endorsement deals.
“ I think a lot of things are going to be rearranged because of the way the economy is,” he said. “You can't continue to pay that kind of money. Everybody on the team is virtually a millionaire. I think you're going to have a salary structure like 1-12. Lebron James and Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe (Bryant), (Amare) Stoudemire, they're going to get paid.
“But it's the guys that came in in this world-wind of money — they're not going get those kind of contracts anymore. Look at Rashard Lewis. It's not the fact that you're making that kind of money; it's the fact that you're making that kind of money and not producing.”
Indianola, a town now of over 10,000 people helped mold him into one of the most consistent centers in NBA history, he said. Lacey, the lone NBA player ever born in Indianola who broke numerous records at Gentry, knows all about producing — even when the odds are stacked against him.
"They say you have a better chance of getting hit by lightening than becoming a pro player," said Lacey.
Safe to say, Lacey gave those odds a beating.

Friday, July 1, 2011

NBA lockout forces Turner to look at other options

Former Delta State guard Phil Turner has hit a speed bump on his journey to the NBA.
The Grenada native, who spent four years at Mississippi State before transferring to DSU for his redshirt senior season, has to wait until the NBA lockout ends before he can sign with a team.
“I had a workout with the Hawks about a week ago, and I was set to be on a summer league team with the Bucks,” said Turner, who averaged 18.6 points last season and was named the Gulf South Conference West Division Player of the Year.
“But it's pretty tough with the lockout. It put handcuffs on a lot of guys,” continued Turner, who added that his former MSU teammate Ben Hansbrough was also at the workout with the Hawks.
But professional basketball is in his near future. Turner said if the NBA doesn't solve their problems soon, he'll most likely head overseas. Several teams had shown interest, he said.
“China. I would love an opportunity to go there,” said Turner.
The former Statesmen guard also said that the Utah Jazz flew to Georgia Wednesday to work him out and recently attended a combine in Chicago.
“Right now,” said Turner, “I'm just looking at getting a contract overseas until things clear up in the NBA.”