Mealer: Gold Ball trophy changes nothing

Wearing their practice jerseys, seniors Calvin Temple, Kevin Henry, Cameron Goodwin, Marquez Berry, Antwan Honer and Kenneth Lewis pose with the Gold Ball trophy they brought home March 8 after defeating district rivals Olive Branch 75-73 in the Class 5A State Championship. The win at the Big House in Jackson marks the first state basketball title in school history.

Sarah Claire Miller, Staff Writer

After winning a Gold Ball state championship trophy at the Big House in Jackson, the boys basketball team’s goal for next season is simple.

“Nothing changes,” said Newton Mealer, whose Mustangs beat Olive Branch 75-73 March 8 in Jackson. “Now that we’ve won a state championship, we want it again.”

The first state championship in school history has put Center Hill High School’s basketball program on a pinnacle, Mealer said, but it didn’t happen overnight.

“This has been a work in progress over the years,” he said. “We’ve had a very successful basketball program in itself, but we haven’t been able to get over that hump of beating Olive Branch. We took the district championship away from them and we also took the state championship away from them. So I would say right now Center Hill is sitting on top of the mountain as far as basketball programs in our state for 5A are concerned.”

Without seniors Marquez Berry, Cameron Goodwin, Kevin Henry, Antwan Honer, Kenneth Lewis and Calvin Temple, Mealer said the state championship run probably couldn’t have been possible.

“Their leadership, their accountability, their determination and their will to win is really what brought this team together,” he said. “As a high school coach, it was a joy to watch those guys become not only basketball players but leaders amongst their own teammates and basically leaders in our school.”

Mealer calls that the championship mentality.

“I wanted the guys to understand every day we had to play as champions,” he said. “We wanted them to be champions on the floor and off the floor, and they had to bring their work ethic every day. My assistant coaches, my managers, my players, everybody underneath me had to set that mindset.”

Shooting guard Kenneth Lewis said championship mentality is always on his mind.

“We practice with it, go into the game with it, we just always think championship mentality,” he said, noting how the concept helped them beat Olive Branch and bring home the Gold Ball trophy.

“It says that we’re very resilient, ’cause you know we lost the first two and we didn’t give up,” he said. “We just stuck with the game plan and we just played hard.”

Following the plan and winning state “was the best way to go out as a senior,” point guard Cameron Goodwin said. “It’s the best moment for sure, the best moment of high school, to end my career like that was in high school was just the best way possible.”

His best game, however, wasn’t at the Big House.

“My favorite moment was when we played Sapulpa this year and I got I think three or four straight defensive stops and a layup to help win the game,” said Goodwin, whose efforts propelled the Mustangs to a 78-77 victory over the Chieftains, from Oklahoma, in the Western Kentucky Hoops Classic.

For guard Braxton Morris, his defining moment of the season was a 50-foot shot at the first quarter buzzer in Jackson that his coach calls a “big, big momentum changer.”

“It was probably one of the times of my life I will never forget,” said Morris, who tied the game 17-17 with the 3-pointer.

Winning state showed that the Mustangs worked as hard as they could to accomplish the goals they wanted, the junior said, adding that next year’s team will have to recover from the loss of six seniors.

“I mean, it’s going to hurt,” he said. “But we’ve just got to come back next year with the same intensity that they brought this year to go back-to-back state champions.”