The Starkville High School boys basketball team enjoyed its run to the Class 6A state championship in 2010. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
Championships just don't happen.
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For a team of any sport to be able to raise a trophy, it has to come through a great deal of hard work, determination, talent, good coaching and excellent play.
The Starkville High School boys basketball team was able to put all of the pieces together to win the Mississippi High School Association Class 6A state title earlier this year and it went on to capture the Grand Slam crown as well.
That accomplishment for the Yellowjackets has been chosen the top sports story of 2010 by the Starkville Daily News staff.
SHS boys coach Greg Carter saw his squad sweep region, North half, state and Grand Slam championships and finished with a mark of 31-2.
"I'm really proud for this basketball team," Carter said after the Jackets won. "I can't say enough about these guys. We had so many ups and downs this year. We started out with one team and as soon as we got that team pretty good, we lose some guys and we've got another team."
In yet another trip to the state tournament, Starkville wouldn't be denied.
The Jackets beat Biloxi 66-51 in the first round, then knocked off Meridian 57-51 for the Gold Ball trophy.
It set off quite a celebration at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson and the team was honored with a parade and rally once it got back to Starkville.
Carter was pleased to see the Jackets achieve the feat after attempts in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 came up empty.
"It's been a long time coming," Carter said. "In 2004, we lost on a last-second shot in the semis, then we lost in the semis by three in 2007 and in 2008, we lost on a last-second shot."
Against Meridian, Starkville was able to keep Rodney Hood, the recent signee of Mississippi State, from making a difference for his team, while Rashad Perkins led the Jackets with 25 points, 14 rebounds and claimed the Cellular South Player of the Game Award. Perkins and Edward Townsel, now a player at Arkansas State, made the All-Tournament team.
The other members of the team were Keon McKinney, Michael Brand, Nathan Ball, Shaquille Hill, Steven Brand, Gavin Ware, Brandon Johnson, Calvin Young, Jaquez Johnson and Tory Rice.
In another success story, Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen worked his magic in his second year of a program once again.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season with a record of 8-4 and accepted an invitation to play in the Gator Bowl against the University of Michigan on Saturday.
"This is a great reward for our players and coaches that worked so hard all year," Mullen said after learning of the bowl destination. "We earned this trip with the way we fought throughout the season and we're grateful to the Gator Bowl Association and the City of Jacksonville for this opportunity to play in a historic New Year's Day Bowl."
MSU's appearance in the Gator Bowl is the first for a Southeastern Conference school since 1994 and this is the first time in school history that the Bulldogs will play a Big Ten opponent in a postseason game.
The win total for the Bulldogs was three better than the season before. MSU had six-straight wins against Georgia, Alcorn State, UAB, Houston, Florida and Kentucky to become bowl eligible.
Not all of the news was positive for the Bulldogs as late in the year an ugly scene took place in Hawaii with two members of the men's basketball team.
Talented sophomore Renardo Sidney, who was finally getting on the court after a year-long battle with the NCAA to become eligible, was caught by ESPN cameras getting into a fight with roommate Elgin Bailey prior to the game between Hawaii and Utah.
The altercation lasted for several minutes before being broken up by teammates and coaches.
Following the incident that occurred on the night before Christmas Eve, it caused members of the MSU basketball coaching staff and administration to go into damage control mode.
"In my 13 years as a head coach, we've never had anything like this happen before," said Bulldogs men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury. "I am very disappointed in the actions of Elgin Bailey and Renardo Sidney and in no way does it reflect the overall picture of our program. It is not how we want our men's basketball team to be viewed nationally, and it is certainly not the conduct we expect of teammates in our program, nor will it be tolerated on any level."
Sidney, the highly touted McDonald's All-American out of Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, sat out last season awaiting clearance by the NCAA.
The NCAA ruled last March that Sidney had to repay $11,800 in improper benefits and not only sit out all of last season, but the first nine games of this season.
Sidney, who had already been suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team, was suspended indefinitely, along with Bailey, and sent home from Hawaii after the incident in Hawaii.
"Our athletic staff, coaches and student-athletes have a responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner that gives credit and honor to our university," MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. "The actions that took place (on Dec. 23) in Hawaii were embarrassing to all who love Mississippi State University and our athletic program. This behavior will not be tolerated."
It was an unexpected issue that Stricklin has had to deal with since becoming the athletic director, taking over for Greg Byrne.
Stricklin was introduced as the 16th athletic director in school history, but he wasn't a stranger to Bulldogs athletics.
A native of Jackson, the 1992 graduate of MSU had 22 years of experience on the collegiate level in various capacities at five different universities.
It was the desire of Stricklin to one day use all of the knowledge gained from his previous endeavors to make a difference at his alma mater.
"Mississippi State is important to me, my family is important to me, but the Mississippi State family is important to me," Stricklin said. "We can do great things. We have done great things and we are going to do better things."
Before becoming AD, Stricklin served for two years under Byrne as Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs. His responsibilities were fundraising, football and men's basketball scheduling, managing the department's all-sports agreement with Adidas, facility planning and serving as the administrative sport liaison for men's basketball and softball.
The stops Stricklin made between stints with the Bulldogs were at Auburn, Tulane, Baylor and Kentucky.
"He knows the business of college athletics," MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum said in introducing Stricklin as AD in May. "He knows the importance of working hard and having good media relations. He understands the importance of working with our student-athletes and helping them become successful by having the proper resources they need to succeed.
"He is a Bulldog. He truly bleeds Maroon and White and wants to be here. He has the passion and desire to provide very strong and capable leadership for this important part of our university."
Other top sports stories for 2011 were the hiring of Jamie Mitchell as head football coach at Starkville High School, the death of MSU defensive lineman Nick Bell, former B.L. Moor High School player Jerry Rice being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former Bulldogs basketball center Jarvis Varnado setting the NCAA blocks record, Stan Miller being hired as Starkville High School Athletic Director, and the MSU women's basketball team making a run to the NCAA Sweet 16.