The Ruleville Central Tigers are alive and ready to compete in that final leg of the basketball season.
The Tigers, at 22-9, are just one of eight teams in 3A boys basketball that will be competing in Jackson at the Mississippi Coliseum or aka “The Big House.” Ruleville will begin the next phase of its quest for a 3A State Championship on Saturday as they play the Jefferson Davis County Jaguars (20-10) in the quarterfinals at 1:30 p.m.
The Tigers have been playing great ball as they've won 17 of their last 19 games and are in Jackson for the first time since 2008.
Ruleville Central head boys basketball coach Marlon Dorsey said he had an idea at the start of the season of what we wanted the philosophies of the team to be.
"Our main goal was to come in here and change the mindset as far as being a team and being disciplined," Dorsey said. “It started off on a rocky road like I expected because they had to get used to my style and I had to get used to theirs. I had a discipline approach to it. We're going to be disciplined and I wanted us to play team basketball. They bought into it"
The Tigers have accomplished a lot through the course of the season as they won the Region 3-3A Championship and have played well in their first two playoff wins against Palmer (55-44) and Nettleton (58-38).
"I thought we hit a stride where we started to do the necessary things to win games - being disciplined on and off the floor, being accountable and being attentive and focused," Dorsey said." Not only that, I saw the behavior in the classroom that they need. Did I ever feel we would be at the state tournament, no I didn't but I thought we could set this program up where it would be respected."
The discipline and teamwork has enabled Ruleville to play stingy defense down the stretch.
"I give the credit to those kids," Dorsey said. "My assistant coach and I asked those kids to do some things they weren't used to doing. Not against anybody else, but I just knew that defensively we could do some things against teams to control or limit them. We're not a very offensive minded team. We're more of a defensive team that gets points off of turnovers. We'll work the ball inside or maybe take a shot at a three, but we've hung our hats on defending people. We practice a lot on the fundamentals of defense and holding each other accountable."
The Tigers are anchored by three seniors; Michael Harris, Pierre Pruitt and Artavius Clark. Harris and Pruitt have been solid guards, while Clark has been dangerous in the post at forward.
“I think those three seniors along the way have helped us get to this point of being in the state tournament,” Dorsey said. “I need seniors to be leaders and they became seniors along the way. It took some time for them to understand what I expect because I got on them a lot. I wanted them to know how important it was for seniors to lead the team and they did.”
Ruleville’s opponent, Jefferson Davis County, has won 11 of its last 14 games. Most of the players on the team have seen action in 20 or more games this year.
Dorsey said depth and defense are key ingredients to JDC's success.
"What makes them tough is he plays about 10 kids and they press and trap all over the floor," Dorsey said. "The play a very physical brand of basketball, and they try to get you in an up and down type of game. Coach (Tony) Woody at Jefferson Davis does a great job of getting those guys to play really hard on the defensive end to cause turnovers and speed you up."
The Mississippi Coliseum is a special place for Dorsey. When Dorsey played basketball at Broad Street, he played a key role in the Jaguars winning the 2A State Boys Basketball Championship in 1989 under the head coach Isaiah Peterson.
Dorsey said this year's Ruleville team is very similar to the team he played on at Broad Street.
"I explained to those guys my freshman year, we weren't expected to win the state title," Dorsey said. "Coach Peterson wasn't expecting us to win after losing a player like his son Ira Peterson to Mississippi State. I was explaining to those guys that nobody gave us a chance. We were a little old team that came into the state tournament unknown at the time, and we came in and played team basketball.
"It was an unknown for us because none of us had played any playoff game. We went on a role just like this team here. I said this team reminds of that state championship team. There were no expectations of winning it. I like to say to them, 'Why not us? Why not you?' Getting to this point here is all about executing your offense and your defense and playing together and finding a comfort zone. Coach Peterson and coach Henry Coleman prepared us and that's what coach Ontario Smith, Braxton Reed and I are trying to do for these kids which is prepare them for every game."
The winner of the Ruleville-Jefferson Davis County game will play the winner of the Holly Springs-Crystal Springs game in the semifinals on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the Mississippi Coliseum. The championship game will be played on Mar. 10 at the Mississippi Coliseum at 3 p.m.