By JOEL COLEMAN
Move over pros. Webster County's hottest hoops rivalry is coming to town.
The FedExForum, best known as the home of the National Basketball Association's Memphis Grizzlies, will be the site for today's games between Eupora and East Webster, a unique opportunity for both schools' boys and girls teams as they take the court prior to the Grizzlies' 7 p.m. game against the Portland Trailblazers.
"(The FedExForum) does this about four of five times a year," said East Webster head coach Corey Stidham. "It's sort of a first-come, first-serve basis. Last year, we played there against Baldwyn, so I contacted (the arena) this year and inquired on it and was able to get it done."
According to its website, the FedExForum is the largest public building construction project in Memphis history.
While the facility is managed and operated by the Grizzlies, it is also the home of the University of Memphis Tigers basketball team.
Like East Webster, Eupora has played at the FedexForum in the past, most recently against Calhoun City two years ago.
While it's not a completely new experience for most of his squad, Eupora head coach Curtis Ford says the Eagles are ready for another visit to the arena located on Beale Street.
"They're really excited, I think more to see the pro game than to play," said Ford.
Once the teams from each school get on the court, they'll have a few adjustments to make.
The regulation length of a high school floor is 84 feet.
The NBA's court is 10 feet longer.
For shooters, the backboards won't be near solid-colored walls as they typically are on the prep level.
Instead, players will have to get used to the thousands of seats resting behind their respective goals.
"The main issue we had last time was the openness of the floor and the length of the court," said Ford. "We got used to it after a while though and did pretty good."
Stidham says he's not worried about the subtle changes. He simply hopes his team learns and adapts.
"That's just part of the game and you have to adjust," said Stidham. "Any atmosphere you go in, any gym you go in, you have to overcome different obstacles and don't let anything faze you."
Amidst the hoopla surrounding the game's stage, fans in Memphis could very well have quite the prelude to the evening's NBA contest if recent history is any indication.
Earlier this month, Eupora earned a hard-fought 72-64 win in Cumberland behind a 35-point performance by point guard Derrick Jones.
In that game, Stidham's Wolverines couldn't contain Jones' drive to the basket, particularly in the second half.
Ford says when Jones is driving the basketball, that's when he's the most dangerous.
"As long as he's taking the ball to the goal and not taking outside shots, he's alright," said Ford. "If he can't get to the goal, he needs to kick it to the guys who can shoot."
Stidham says he'll try some different things to slow down Jones this time around, but knows it'll be tough.
"He's a good ballplayer and we just have to rise up and meet that challenge," said Stidham. "The main thing is we just have to step up and force him to do some other things."
East Webster is buoyed by the play of a good floor general themselves.
Ledrick Patterson, who put up 18 points against Eupora in the prior meeting this year, paces the Wolverines offense.
While the point guard play has a chance to steal today's show, Stidham says Jones and Patterson won't be the only players to have a say in the matchup's outcome.
"We've got 16 guys on our bench all fighting for the same thing, trying to get a victory," said Stidham. "It takes every one of them to get what we want. One player's not going to do it. We've got to have all of them."
The boys game will tip off around 3 p.m., immediately following a 1:30 p.m. girls game.
Ford's girls, led by a 29-point output by Raishawnda Brantley, also defeated East Webster earlier this month, 39-35.
Mandy Fondren's Lady Wolverines hope to earn a measure of revenge against their cross-county rival today behind the talents of Mary Jo Christ, Katesa Dear and others.
While both boys and girls action today should be intense, Stidham believes just playing on such a premier stage will be something that sticks with all the players involved.
"(Playing in the FedExForum) is a good opportunity," said Stidham. "It lets everyone get an experience that a lot of kids don't get to do."