Ahead of one of the most anticipated matchups in Mississippi high school basketball history, Mississippi Sports reached out to Biggersville’s Cliff Little and Ingomar’s Trent Adair. The multiple state-title-winning head coaches talked game-day attire, lucky markers, last-minute prep and what it will take for one or the other’s talented squads to add an extra Gold Ball to an already crowded trophy case…
EDITORS NOTE: Mississippi Sports would like to sincerely thank Biggersville head coach Cliff Little and Ingomar head coach Trent Adair for taking time out of a hectic schedule–the night before the biggest game of the year–to answer a few questions in the leadup to today’s epic Class 1A girl’s championship matchup set for 1 p.m. at the Big House.
JACKSON–Since the beginning of the 2023 high school basketball season in Mississippi, the road to Class 1A girl’s title was going to end not far from our state’s capitol in Jackson. And most predictions saw the defending champ Biggerville Lady Lions and the Ingomar Lady Falcons colliding on the Big House floor with most of northeast Mississippi watching with baited anticipation.
And here we are. And all the basketball people said…”Amen.”
The (little later than) “High Noon” showdown between small-school basketball juggernauts features an X’s and O’s matchup between Cliff Little and Trent Adair, whose basketball ties go back to junior college basketball at Northeast Mississippi Community College in 1999. Fast forward 24 years and they two have a combined nine state titles.
Little has five. One with East Webster (2008). And four with Biggersville–boys championships in 2013, 2021-22 and last year with the girls.
Adair has hoisted four Gold Balls at Ingomar. A pair in Class 2A (2016-2018. A pair in Class 1A. (2016 and 2021) , putting him in rare air. He’s currently tied with the late great Mississippi coaching legend Norris Ashley, who ironically has nine state rings by himself.
And today’s 1 p.m. tipoff between Biggersville and Ingomar could be an instant classic not just because of the stellar coaching resumes. The two squads have a history. A very recent history. The Lady Lions upended Ingomar this time last year in the 1A quarterfinals, 58-40, on their way to being the last team standing on the 1A hill in 2002. Biggersville (22-5) has returned to defend that crown.
The Lady Falcons have clawed through their 2023 competition like a 7-year-old opening Christmas gifts from Santa. 36 wins. One lone loss to private-school power Leake Academy.
Biggersville and Ingomar each have a previous MVP of the state title game. Miss Basketball Macie Phifer will suit up for the Lady Falcons. The Lady Lions Hannah Seago and Asia Stafford are All-State performers from a season ago. There are talented players all over the court and the 1A All-State this year will be loaded with players from each squad.
We asked both coaches about “State-Championship-Game Eve,” pregame rituals, and what this game means to Northeast Mississippi high school basketball. Each coach also took the time to throw a few rose petals at today’s opponent before turning their attention to trying to rip the other’s hearts out inside the lines of the Big House floor in front of a possible record-setting crowd.
Biggersville/Ingomar girls in the final game of the season for a coveted gold ball is a matchup made in Mississippi high school basketball heaven. Small-school basketball. Storied programs. Gold-ball winning programs. “Cult-like” fan bases that aren’t just joking when they tell the last one out of town to turn out the lights. They’re serious.
TRENT ADAIR. INGOMAR HIGH SCHOOL.
- What’s it like for a coach the night before a state title game? (Trent Adair is WHAT-WHAT in HOW MANY state championships game appearances.)
Honestly, the night before, the hay is in the barn. Most of the preparation is done. It’s just a matter of getting out there and playing…The sitting around and waiting is the worst part.
2. Do you believe in pregame rituals?….a meal? A certain piece of clothing? If so, do you have any that you want to share?
We’ve been pretty consistent with what we do pregame, but when the business goes belly up, that shoots that down. I’ve worn the “blue” vest. It’s something a few people here (at Ingomar) identify as my attire. Ginger (Coach Adair’s wife) is trying to make it disappear though.
3. Pregame speeches. Overrated/underrated/has no effect on player performance?
I’m in the camp of pregame speeches only go so far. I think they certainly can stir emotions and that can help to an extent…And that may just be because I don’t think I’m very good at them.
4. Question and follow-up: What do you admire about your opponent? (What player/what part of your opponent’s game do you have to contain to win?
I think they (Biggersville) are really good…lot of seniors who have been here multiple times. Experience is irreplaceable, and they have a lot of it.
They are really good in transition and dominate rebounding. That’s a major factor in this game. If we can’t limit those areas, it will be extremely difficult to compete.
5. Did you look ahead and predict this matchup when the season began like almost everyone else in NE Mississippi?
I had no doubt they’d (Biggersville) be here. They won it and had everyone back. For us, I thought we’d have a good team before the year started but we’ve been a little better than I was expecting.
6. As a veteran basketball coach with multiple titles, where does this matchup rank? And what does it say about NE Mississippi basketball?
The northeast MS element definitely makes it an interesting matchup. Two communities that love basketball have a lot of interest in the game. Point of pride for our area of the state.
7. What’s the main reason (s) your squad is in a position to win a Gold Ball?
Good players. Players that have been raised by good parents and been part of a community that loves the game too.
CLIFF LITTLE. BIGGERSVILLE HIGH SCHOOL
- What’s it like for a coach the night before a state title game?
So many things have to be done. But I am so blessed because of the support I have from our administration. My principal Pete Seago supports us in every way possible. It’s hard to put into words what it means to have a principal that truly wants you to have every advantage you can have to win.
Not only do I have support from Pete Seago as principal but also have our elementary principal Elizabeth White. She has served as our travel coordinator for the last three seasons, and I cannot in any way shape, or form express how awesome of a job she does on these trips. She’s literally “golden” for us. She plans out every single move that we make and it takes so much off of me. We don’t win last year’s title without her…
And not only do I have support from both of my bosses, but I also have the support of my wife Jana who is the best coaches-wife in the world. And I have a wonderful assistant and Coach Tracy Stafford. All of these guys are 100% brought into this process. They help me give our team every chance to win we can give them.
Specifically for the coach, it is a night of thinking about whether have you got everything in, whether you’re covered everything, and what else should we have done. Hopefully, you feel good about what you have done as a coach to prepare your kids and give them the best possible chance to win.
Fortunately, for me, I feel like our kids are all in, so they are also searching for every edge possible to prepare for the game.
- Do you believe in pregame rituals?….a meal? A certain piece of clothing?
I guess that I somewhat do believe in pregame rituals…as bad as I hate to say it. Once we get to playing well I usually continue to wear the same clothing throughout the playoffs. Even though I do wear the same clothes I tell my wife that it’s more about not having to plan anything else. Just stay with whatever I’m doing.
I know that has nothing to do with whether we win to lose. I guess it’s just become kind of a funny thing that we do. I think she is more superstitious than I am. I wouldn’t call myself superstitious.
I’m just a little Stitious (Michael Scott from the “Office” reference). Now, my wife on the other hand is very superstitious. She changes nothing…All the way down to making sure we have the same marker for our board.
- Pregame speeches…Overrated/underrated/has no effect on player performance?
I honestly don’t believe that a pregame speech is going to change anything about this game…Our kids know what’s on the line as well as their kids, and I don’t believe there’s anything that I can say that will make them play any harder than they will…Even if I didn’t go in the locker room at all.
- Question and follow-up: What do you admire about your opponent? What player/part of your opponent’s game do you have to contain to win?
I admire Coach Adair very much. I’ve known him since he was a player and I was a manager for Northeast Men’s Basketball. His teams are always very disciplined. They’re always gonna play defense, and he also plays to the strength of his teams…He obviously comes from a long line of success as a player and a coach. He played for one of the best coaches ever in North Ashley, and a tradition-rich school, like Ingomar. He has also had some of the best teams that I can remember in high school basketball over the last several years.
- Did you look ahead and predict this matchup when the season began like almost every other NE Mississippi high school basketball enthusiast?
I always look ahead to find out what the matchups will be at the end of each year. Maybe even before the year is over. I play out every scenario in my head with who we might catch (potential playoff opponent) depending on where we finish in the district play. I figured Ingomar would win their district. So I obviously knew that if we finished where we wanted, we would not see each other until the championship game, given we were both fortunate enough to make it.
So to say that I thought we both would make it to this point would not be true because there are so many factors that determine whether or not you will make it to play in the championship game. I think you have to be very good and also a little lucky to get to this point.
- As a veteran basketball coach with multiple titles, where does this matchup rank? And what does it say about NE Mississippi basketball?
To be honest, I don’t look at this one any differently than I have any of the others. I always tell my kids that what happened in the past stays there. This team is a team all to itself. I don’t care if we have players on this team that won a championship last year. This has nothing to do with last year. Each year and each team is a separate group, and this team has not won a title.
As far as NE Mississippi basketball, I don’t know how much this game can do for NE Mississippi basketball. But, I know NE Mississippi basketball has done a lot for me. I went to Alcorn Central High School. I saw the boys win a state title when I was in the third grade. I fell in love with those teams and head coach Mike Lewis. NE Mississippi basketball helped me fall in love with the game.
The fans in NE Mississippi had a passion for basketball. I could see it and that’s how I fell in love with the game. Before I even got the job at Biggersville, I saw the type of love Biggersville fans had for basketball before. I knew it would be a great fit. And I was blessed enough to be hired by Gary Johson. I’m thankful to be at the school. So, it’s not that I’ve given NE Mississippi basketball anything. But NE Mississippi basketball changed my life. The kids, the people and the coaches have changed my life for the better and I’m so thankful for that.
- What’s the main reason (s) your squad is in a position to win a Gold Ball
Although I count this year as a new year and a separate team, you have to take into consideration that they do have experience. We have a great group of seniors. I think this may be the first time I have ever had eight seniors on one team…And most of them have been playing for four years and have seen just about every situation imaginable.
We are fortunate in the fact that those players have now played in three straight championship tournaments…I believe that helps in this process. Not only are we fortunate and experienced but also, I believe we are very talented. I’m very proud of this group of seniors, and what they have been able to accomplish over the course of their careers at Biggersville.
But I do believe they feel like they still have one more job to do.