South Reporter file photo
DaQuan Smith soars to the goal in last season’s state tourney.
An experienced Holly Springs High School basketball team tips off a new season in less than a month, and it hopes to find gold at the end of the rainbow.
The Hawks will be led by eight seniors, including one labeled as the fifth best player in the state.
Highly-recruited guard DaQuan Smith has been a starter since the ninth grade and averaged 26.5 points per game last season.
“It’s a blessing for me, to be on that list (of top players in the state),” Smith said, “but I just want to be a better leader for my team. It’s about the team. The team goals are what’s important, and when I leave here, I want the guys behind me to keep that winning tradition going.”
Other seniors on this year’s squad are Anthony Johnson, Cornelious Bridgeforth, Rahmon Rutherford, Cameron Kimmons, Landarius Griffin, Ladarius Stinson and Lantrevius Griffin.
The Hawks have advanced to the state tournament in Jackson three consecutive seasons.
“We’ve always been good, but this year it’s more serious,” Smith said. “This year is my last year. We’ve got to get that gold ball.
“We just have to be concerned about what we have to do as a team. If we do what we’re supposed to do, it will take care of itself.”
His head coach, Sylvester Kilgore, said the goal is definitely to take it beyond last year’s final four in Class 3A.
“The goal is to win it all, but we know it won’t be easy,” he said. “I do believe these guys have a great opportunity to be successful. There is a lot of experience on this team.”
Smith played summer ball on the national Adidas circuit with MBA Hoops out of Jackson. The team finished in the top 10 and even beat the number one team. He averaged 14 points per game.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “You’re playing against the best guys in the country.”
He enters his senior season for the Hawks with more than 1,800 career points.
The recruiting process has included interest from lots of colleges – like Penn State, Memphis, Ole Miss and South Alabama.
Smith has verbally committed to Murray State (in Murray, Kentucky).
“I like the environment there,” he said. “It just feels like home, like Holly Springs, and I really like the coaching staff. Playing D-1 basketball has been a goal of mine for a long time.”
Coach Kilgore said Smith is not only a great player, with tremendous athletic ability and tenacity, but he’s an excellent student. He has a 3.5 grade point average.
“That’s what we’ve been working toward with our program,” Kilgore said. “We always have talent, but we want them to qualify academically for D-1 basketball programs.
“DaQuan (Smith) has put himself in a good position – athletically and academically. There is nothing wrong with junior college basketball, but why settle for that if you don’t have to?”
The Hawks have lost just one district game out of the last 30 (in three seasons) with Smith on the court.
“He’s an outstanding player, but more importantly, he’s a team player and a leader for this basketball team,” Kilgore said.
The Hawks tip off the season November 4 at 7 p.m. versus Olive Branch at the Olive Branch Classic, followed by a game verus Lake Cormorant on November 10 at 1 p.m. at the Landers Center in Southaven.
The schedule is a tough one. It includes traditional rivals Byhalia and Ashland, plus Southwind out of Memphis, Tenn., and other challenges. Holly High will also play in the Larry Finch Tribute Classic at the Emma Roane Field House, the Curtis Loggins Shootout in Calhoun City, the Domino’s Pizza Challenge at South Panola, the Tangle on the Trail at Pontotoc, the North Pontotoc Shootout and the prestigious Hotbed Classic at New Albany. Some of the opponents in those will include Bartlett, Tenn., Houlka and Ingomar.
“When you’ve had success, a lot of those tournament and shootout organizers come calling,” Kilgore said. “We’re looking forward to the challenging schedule. It can only make us better and get us ready come tournament time.”