Mississippi State freshman guard Fred Thomas was celebrating a State championship the last time he was in the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
The 6-foot-5, 191-pound Jackson native poured in 24 points and hit the game winning 3-point shot to lead Jim Hill to a 76-74 win over Tupelo and the Class 6A State championship.
This time Thomas will play in the "Big House" with his Mississippi State Bulldogs. MSU (3-6) plays Central Arkansas (4-4) in Jackson at 2 p.m. today.
"That was a pretty memorable game for me," Thomas said of the State championship. "Going back down there, I feel like it's going to be very special. We still need to stay focused so we can win the game."
For head coach Rick Ray, he is glad Thomas is returning home, but he also sees this trip as way to make a statement.
"I think it's great for Fred," Ray said. "We want to be successful in Jackson. It's a major city in the state of Mississippi. We need to have recruiting success there. We need guys to come and matriculate into Mississippi State to go back and play in front of home crowds like that and have some success. I'm glad he's excited."
It has been a quick transition for Thomas. Less than a year ago, he was helping his high school team to a title and preparing to graduate. Now he is a starter for an Southeastern Conference basketball team.
"Coming to Mississippi Stat,e I never thought I would be starting," Thomas said. "With all the people we have and the depth, he put me in the starting lineup. I just have to work hard, be more aggressive and get some rebounds so we can win some games."
Thomas, who is second on the team in scoring with 11.4 points per game, will have family, friends and people from his high school in the stands.
Ray doesn't want Thomas to get so wrapped up in returning home. He wants him to stay within himself and be a team player.
"He also has to make sure he stays within the gameplan," Ray said. "Fred can't get wrapped up in trying to go out an put on a show. He's a good basketball player, he's going to get good opportunities and he just needs to make sure he doesn't get wrapped up in the excitement of trying to put on a show in front of his friends, family and fans.
"He just needs to go out and play his game of basketball. If he does that and keeps his emotions under wraps, he will be successful. If he goes out there trying to put on a show, he is going to struggle."
Sophomore forward Roquez Johnson leads the Bulldogs with 13.3 points per game.
The Bears are led by head coach Corliss Williamson. Central Arkansas is led on the court by guards Robert Crawford and LaQuentin Miles at 14.6 and 13.9 points respectively.
"Corliss Williamson played at Arkansas," Ray said. "He's a Nolan Richardson disciple, so we are going to see a lot of pressing. It's going to be their version of 40 minutes of hell. If you look at our statistics, it's the best thing to do against us, trying to make us handle the ball versus pressure."