By Andy Kanengiser
Clinton High School’s joyful celebration is still going strong after the Arrows boys basketball team captured the state’s 6A hoops title in Jackson on March 6. Making it that much sweeter, the thrilling 56-51 triumph over reigning champ Starkville in the Big House handed the Clinton boys squad their first Gold Ball since 1993.
Clinton’s hoops leader all season, Kimani Hamilton elevated his game that Saturday evening in the Mississippi Coliseum, especially when it counted the most – with the game on the line in the 4th quarter. Swiftly dribbling the ball, grabbing rebounds, playing awesome defense and scoring at crucial moments, No. 5 proved to be unstoppable.
Hamilton scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the way for the Arrows. In the final period, he hit consecutive buckets to put Clinton ahead 50-45 with one minute and 35 seconds left, as the home team crowd anticipated Clinton’s first boys hoops state title in 28 years. Kimani’s teammates came up huge, too. Allen Hughes led the Arrows with 16 points, and Michael Bell added 12. Jeremiah Foster chipped in with eight points and eight rebounds.
There really was no other choice when Hamilton, a 6’9” junior, was selected the MVP of the game. Excited Clinton fans rushed the court to congratulate the Arrows players.
“This is a team win – there are no individual superstars, although Kimani Hamilton is great,’’ Clinton Schools’ Superintendent Tim Martin said as he joined courtside festivities. It was an extraordinary evening as well for the Clinton Arrows basketball leader, he noted. “Robert Green is a class act as head coach.”
Assistant Superintendent Anthony Goins saluted the close-knit Clinton High student-athletes.
“They play very well as a team,” said Goins. “I’m very proud of the kids and the coaching staff.”
Decked out in red, newly-named Clinton Superintendent Andy Schoggin was all smiles at the Big House after the Arrows notched one of their biggest basketball triumphs in school history.
“It was exciting to see. They worked hard all year. I’m proud to be part of it,” said Schoggin.
Dr. Schoggin begins working in Clinton July 1 after serving as the Petal School District Assistant Superintendent and Chief Operations Officer.
As he’s done all season, Clinton High basketball coach Robert Green remained a sea of calm as the clock ticked down from the opening tipoff. It was a nail biter from the very beginning, as the Starkville Yellow Jackets and Coach Greg Carter tried to seal a third straight 6A title. The teams were familiar with one another. Clinton beat Starkville in the Rumble in the South basketball tournament at Mississippi College in January – and that win gave Green and Arrows players a good idea what to expect.
It was tight all the way, with Clinton ahead 30-29 at half-time Saturday night in Jackson. The Yellow Jackets went up 41-36 late in the third quarter, then Hughes capitalized with a three-pointer to trim the Starkville lead to lead 41-39 as the quarter ended.
Large signs with messages like “CHS Over Everybody’’ and “Let’s Go, Big Red’’ were part of the festive atmosphere at the coliseum, while enthusiastic Arrows cheerleaders sparked fans all night. Enjoying every moment was LA Rams star running back Cam Akers, a former Florida State and Clinton High standout. Akers quarterbacked Clinton to a state football championship win over Pearl in 2016.
Going into the 4th quarter, Starkville led 41 to 39, until Hamilton and talented teammates like Allen Hughes (No. 4) and Jeremiah Foster (No. 34) went to work on offense. A slam dunk by Foster to put Clinton up 52-47 late in the game had fans loudly buzzing. Allen Hughes hit clutch free throws after getting fouled with 12.8 seconds left to put Clinton up 54-50. Foster closed things out at the foul line with 2.5 seconds left to give Clinton the last of its 56 points. Starkville standout Coltie Young was held to just five points. Eric Green paced Starkville with 19 points for Starkville that finished with a 21-3 mark. The Arrows ended their historic year 21-1.
The final buzzer at the Big House climaxed an unforgettable season for assistant Arrows basketball coach Jay Case, a former Mississippi College hoops player.
“What a year! Huge thanks to God for allowing me to do what I love,’’ he posted on his Facebook page along with a team photo. “This is truly a special group that will not be forgotten. STATE CHAMPS 2021!!”
The championship triumph mirrored Clinton’s 6-point win over Harrison Central in the semi-finals on March 4. The Arrows broke away in the 4th period to slip past the Red Rebels from the Gulf Coast. Harrison Central was paced by 6’6” senior Carlous Williams, a South Carolina signee. Hamilton led the way for the Arrows with 22 points.
Starkville advanced to the championship game by beating the Oak Grove Warriors in the semi-finals. Plenty of Starkville High fans made the two-hour road trip to Jackson.
Starkville won state boys basketball titles in 1961, 2010, 2015, 2019 and 2020.
For Clinton’s boys basketball team, it marked their fourth state championship. They others came in 1955, 1960 and 1993. Joel Boone coached the Arrows to their last state title back when Bill Clinton was America’s 42nd president.
Sumner Hill Junior High Assistant Principal Jeremaine Brown summed up this year’s championship run for the Arrows.
“It’s chemistry, teamwork and selflessness,” he said. “These are good kids who have been together. It’s a good brotherhood. Coach Green is humble.”
Coach Green believes the Arrows boys team is well-stocked with all the ingredients to win a second straight Gold Ball at the 2022 MHSAA championship. Hamilton and other key players are returning to the hardwood next season.
“I definitely think this group has a great chance to be back in the Big House competing for [a title] next year,” said Green.
Hamilton is already drawing interest from schools like Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Jackson State, Green said.
“No.5 is getting the most attention.”
But other capable Clinton High players like Allen Hughes, the scoring leader for the Arrows in the championship game, join Hamilton as keys to the team’s success, Green added. Wearing No. 24 as an impressive Arrows guard, senior Omarion Luss serves as the student body president at Clinton High.
Green says it was a tremendous season considering all the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe Mississippi winter ice storm. The team showed maturity and stayed focused all year.
“They are brothers,” the coach said of the 2021 Clinton Arrows boys basketball team. “The chemistry is great,” Green reiterated.