The Gulfport High School boys basketball team will have its hands full Friday night against arguably the best team in the state, which will be led by a familiar face on the Coast.
First-year Meridian coach Ron Norman will enter Bert Jenkins Gym with an undefeated team. The Wildcats have breezed through a tough early-season schedule with a 10-0 record for Norman, who worked the previous three years as coach at Pascagoula.
“It’s bittersweet,” Norman said of his return to the Coast. “It allows me to get back closer to the people I miss, see some old friends. We look forward to the trip to Gulfport because they’re always good.”
Norman led Pascagoula to three consecutive state tournament trips to Jackson after arriving from Wayne County. The Panthers finished 24-5 under Norman in his final season in Pascagoula and he was named the Sun Herald Coach of the Year.
He inherited a talented roster at Meridian, including 6-foot-6 senior forward Ladarius Brewer, who verbally committed to UTEP in October.
Brewer’s younger brother, Tyron, is also a standout wing player at 6-foot-4.
Javius Malone, a senior, and junior Miles Miller have been strong in the backcourt for the Wildcats.
“Those four kids have really allowed us go through growing pains, but still be good enough to win games,” Norman said.
Gulfport rolls into Friday night’s game with a record of 7-4 after beating West Harrison 61-46 on Tuesday night.
Gulfport coach Owen Miller sees the match with Meridian as a key early test for his squad.
“We see it as a great opportunity,” Miller said. “We have tremendous respect for their program. I think the world of (Norman) as a man and a coach. We get a chance to play the No. 1 team in the state in our building. They’re obviously very good. He inherited a team with a lot of experience and talent. They don’t have any weaknesses.”
Gulfport will be without one of its top players in senior guard Keevon Oney, who has been suspended for a violation of team rules. He is averaging 9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.
Senior Miles Daniels is Gulfport’s leading scorer, averaging 14.2 points. Junior guard Oliver McDowell is pitching in 11.8 points a contest.
In the post, Gulfport has been getting strong play from 6-foot-6 junior Dexter McCord, who is averaging 8.3 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.
Miller said junior point guard Chad Crenshaw is a recent addition providing key minutes in the backcourt.
Without Oney on Friday night, Gulfport will have to be at its best on defense.
“Defensively, we’re creating more turnovers than we have in our six years here,” Miller said. “We’ve got some length so we can turn people over. I’ve been pleased with the exception of two games.
“We’ve got to get better offensively. We’ve got to value the ball more. I think if we can do that, we can get better offensively quick.”