By DANNY P. SMITH
For a minute in Cumberland Thursday night, it was like being back at the Starkville Sportsplex gym during the summer.
The East Webster Invitational provided a similar feel to what the summer league was like in Starkville, but it was a different time and different place.
All a person had to do was walk outside and realize the summer has been left behind weeks ago.
However, the basketball inside the Sammy Henderson gymnasium was just as hot and competitive, at least it was for the first two girls games of the event.
With the boys and girls teams from East Webster, Eupora, West Oktibbeha and Ackerman, it was a field filled with rivalry scenarios and interesting matchups. It should be an interesting next couple of nights with hoops in Webster County.
When the East Webster coaches were organizing the tournament this season, the primary objective was to give area teams a chance to play games against each other and not have to travel a long distance. Ackerman made the longest trip and it was only about 25 miles.
East Webster boys coach Corey Stidham said the tournament offers a good opportunity to bring area basketball fans together before the holidays and prior to district play beginning for the teams.
"None of these teams are in our district so we don't play them during the district," Stidham said. "It's good competition and we don't have to travel a long way. It just keeps the local rivalries around.
"All four schools have played each other, we're little (schools) and it's always something fun to get to play these local team."
Stidham's Wolverines and Danny Crawford's West Oktibbeha boys were very impressive on the opening night of the event.
The Timberwolves broke open a close game after the first quarter to claim a 67-51 victory over the Eupora Eagles.
Both teams had familiar names on their roster who are just joining in on the hoops fun after enjoying success in football.
West Oktibbeha does have Von Smith, who put up some huge numbers at quarterback, but also Aaron Brownlee and Dwight Quinn. Brownlee had 20 points for the Timberwolves and Crawford said he wasn't even 100 percent in shape yet. West Oktibbeha opponents had better watch out when Brownlee does adapt his game fully to the court.
Now with a record of 9-2, the Timberwolves are developing into one of the nice stories of the area so far this season. There's one matchup that Crawford and his players have probably already circled on their calendar and that's when they make the short trip down Highway 82 to meet the defending Class 6A state champion Starkville Yellowjackets on Feb. 1.
West Oktibbeha doesn't need to sleep on its next two opponents with East Webster tonight (8:30 p.m.) and Ackerman on Saturday (5:30 p.m.). There's nothing the Wolverines and Indians would like better than to knock off the hot Timberwolves.
The rest of today's tournament schedule has Eupora and Ackerman girls playing at 4 p.m., the Eupora and Ackerman boys meeting at 5:30 p.m. and the East Webster and West Oktibbeha girls squaring off at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the West Oktibbeha and Ackerman girls play at 4 p.m., the Eupora and East Webster girls meet at 7 p.m. and the East Webster and Eupora boys finish up the action at 8:30 p.m.
For basketball fans of those schools, that kind of schedule proves to be an early Christmas present.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.