By JOEL COLEMAN
There seems to be one word that best sums up the play of The Starkville Daily News All-Area Player of the Year Kendrin Yates while he's on the basketball court.
The word isn't talent, though the West Oktibbeha standout junior could definitely make that claim after a 2010-11 season that saw him average 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
It isn't leadership, despite the fact that Yates became the heart and soul of a Timberwolves team that finished 21-9, advanced to the second round of the Class A playoffs and came up just two wins short of a spot in the State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.
What is the word, you ask?
"The secret to Kendrin is that he's just a competitor," said West Oktibbeha head coach Danny Crawford. "Kendrin hates to be out-done. He refuses to let either his teammates or his opponent out-do him. It's not that he's stronger than anybody or more talented, it's just the will to not be out-done."
Never was Yates' demeanor on greater display than on the night of January 21.
On that evening, Yates helped the Timberwolves overcome a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Mississippi State signee David Gardner and the Okolona Chieftans.
Yates finished with a team-high 22 points that night and after the game, displayed his competitive spirit, referring to Gardner as "a nobody."
Yates has a simple explanation for his attitude that brings out things such as the words he pointed toward Gardner after their late-season matchup.
"I don't fear any player," said Yates.
According to Crawford, Yates has always been the type of player to turn up the intensity for challenges such as the one Gardner brought to Maben.
"(Yates) loves the spotlight," said Crawford. "He gets up for all the big games against the Gardners and people like that. He just loves matching up against big opponents."
Apparently, postseason pressure also doesn't get to Yates.
In West Oktibbeha's first-round home playoff game against Shaw, Yates had perhaps his best game of the season, scoring 35 points and hauling in 20 rebounds to push the Timberwolves to a 68-63 win.
Those types of performances weren't uncommon for Yates, despite the fact he spent all season playing in the post, a spot where Yates says he isn't the most comfortable.
"My game is really outside, but my team needed me inside this year," said Yates. "Doing that, my inside game really got a lot better."
As an added bonus, Yates realizes his newfound versatility could prove to be a benefit even after high school.
"Just say I go to college after next year as a guard," said Yates. "My team might need me at post sometimes, so I know I can play post now."
Crawford says several schools from the Southwestern Athletic Conference including Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State have already inquired about Yates, but the attention could soon be expanding.
After Yates shined in his role during his junior campaign, Crawford says he intends to put Yates' talents on full display next season as a small forward.
"Kendrin is actually the best outside shooter on our team," said Crawford. "He was just so talented inside and I had so few inside players that that's where he had to play this year. Next year, I'll be moving him to the perimeter a lot more."
Following his breakout junior campaign, it's hard to imagine next season could be any more special for Yates.
"My senior year is already about to kick off because we're in a summer league so I'm playing ball year round now," said Yates. "I'm too ready for it."