From Ring Pops to Championship Rings

By: Brandon Speck

In 2011, Booneville put Class 3A on notice when current assistant coach Kenny Paul Geno was dunking on Cleveland East Side in a playoff game in Corinth.

It was a playoff game Booneville wasn’t suppose to win. The Blue Devils were barely expected to compete against East Side and future NBA draftee Johnny O’Bryant.

But Booneville did win that game and went on to win the state championship. If any of Booneville’s current title chasers were there, they likely were more worried about Ring Pops or nachos than what was happening on the court.

“These kids were little bitty, four or five, some of them younger,” Booneville coach Michael Smith said. “They don’t remember a lot about that.”

Since then, Smith has led the Blue Devils to four more championships, one more on the guys’ side and three for the girls.

These kids are making memories of their own. Twelve years after it all started, Booneville is a win away from adding another state championship – or two – to the trophy case when the girls face Forest Saturday at 1 p.m. and the boys face Southeast Lauderdale two hours later at Mississippi Coliseum.

“It’s a special time. They both play off each other,” Smith said. “They’re in it together. These kids deserve the respect for what they’re doing for our school.”

The boys have the 2025 class’ top recruit in Kedrick Simmons. In Wednesday’s semifinal win against Morton, it was Landon Brown leading the team with 20 points and Dicorean McGee scoring 15.

The girls got 18 points and 15 rebounds from Mrs. 3A Basketball Sa’niyah Cook, her team having to grind out a 34-30 win that saw Hallie Burns, Kylee Johnson and Kaylee Johnson score the rest of the points.

Booneville has had enough success to not be questioned on what it takes to win.

“You win with kids with character,” Smith said. “I think that’s one thing people miss. You’d rather have someone with some character and grit about them than somebody that’s a great athlete. These kids check the boxes.

“They don’t shy from being leaders in the school and community.”

That Prentiss County community is hoping to add another gold ball or two and become the first team in Mississippi history to win back-to-back titles in boys and girls hoops.

It won’t be without a following. The Big House stands behind Saturday’s benches will be full and loud.

“It’s not going to last forever. You’ve just got to hope that we all appreciate it while it’s there,” Smith said. “I’ve got the best seat in the house to watch greatness every night we play.”

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