By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Mississippi basketball standout David Sanders enjoys bringing his team from Callaway, Miss., to western Kentucky to play in the Marshall County Hoopfest and McCracken County Mustang Madness like he did again this season.
“Great basketball, great experience. I love coming over here. It’s almost like a second home for us,” Sanders said. “We just love coming. There’s nothing about it we don’t like. Sometimes we don’t want to go home.
“I know games and atmospheres like this get you ready for the playoffs. It’s about building confidence and putting them in tough situations where they got to get through it.”
Callaway beat Marshall County 77-70 at Mustang Madness last week in a battle of two of the nation’s top junior point guards. Zion Harmon had 22 points in the first 12 minutes for Marshall and finished 31 points on 9-for-24 shooting, seven assists and two rebounds. Callaway standout DeShaun Ruffin had 31 points on 12 of 22 shooting, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Harmon hit three straight 3-pointers early in period two before Sanders had to change his defensive thinking.
“The type of coach I am, I have never double teamed a guy and he had 22 real early in the game. I knew we had to do something else,” Sanders said.
He also knows one other thing about Harmon’s talent.
“I am going to go on record and say it is a shame that the University of Kentucky has not offered that kid (a scholarship). I just don’t get it,” Sanders said. “He is amazing. This kid is unbelievable. He shot one 3 flat-footed. There’s no defense for that.
“He is an unbelievable player, great kid. Solid kid, does not talk on the floor. He just plays the game. He’s a kid that any program should be lucky to have.”
Harmon came back the next morning and got 18 of his 21 points in the third quarter in a 77-46 win where he was 8-for-16 from the field and had seven assists, one rebound and one steal.
“I think that his IQ is so high. You look at him and think he’s taking a bunch of shots but he gets his teammates involved so well,” Sanders said when asked about Harmon’s biggest strength. “Some of those passes were just so on line and so crisp to where a guy was just stepping into it and shooting. I know those guys love playing with him.
“That’s what I love most is that IQ. That is something that is hard to teach kids these kids — when to make pass and when to take a shot. He gets that naturally.”
Sanders said there will be few better point guard matchups nationally this year and that his team won’t see another point guard that good.
“Deshaun told me before the tip, ‘Coach, let me go at him.’ He took the challenge of guarding Zion and I thought he did a really good job on him but I had to get him off because I knew he was spending too much energy,” Sanders said.
“Zion is one of those guys that is almost like a boxer. He knows how to take your energy out of you. He will bounce left, bounce right. I look at DeShaun and he’s playing good defense but I needed him on the other end (on offense), so we mixed it up on defense against Zion but he still put on a show.”
Ruffin didn’t score in the second quarter when Sanders said he was obviously “winded” from exerting so much energy on defense.
“DeShaun drives and plays so hard that he’s going to be tired with all he does,” Sanders said. “This was just a great matchup of great players. We have been trying to put that one together for a couple of years and I know the fans loved it and there will be a lot of mixtapes out there. Just proud to be part of great game with two great players like that.”