MCHS coach Rahim Lockhart in his playing days at Ole Miss.
MCHS coach Rahim Lockhart in his playing days at Ole Miss.
He was a bruising, physical presence inside during his playing years at Ole Miss; now Rahim Lockhart makes his presence known from the bench as the head coach of the Madison Central Jaguars.

On Tuesday Lockhart guided the Jags to their first division win of the season with a tight 67-63 victory over Northwest Rankin that saw MCHS score 20 points in the final period.

This is Lockhart's third stint as a high school basketball coach having spent time in Taylorsville and Grenada before this year.

So far this year Madison Central (6-4 overall) has largely gone unnoticed in the Class 6A ranks, but Lockhart said he is optimistic about the program's future.

Thanks to the success of the football team this year, a number of his players have only recently joined the team. It will take a while for them to gel, but thanks to some young talent Lockhart believes they have the chance to be a solid squad.

"We're progressing," he said. "I feel like we had an adjustment period as far as the change in style of play.

"We have a really young group with two seniors and a lot of sophomores and juniors," he added.

Lockhart's time at Ole Miss from 1997 to 2001 was one of the most successful in the school's history.

The basketball team won two SEC Western Division Championships and made four straight postseason appearances including three NCAA Tournaments.

Lockhart was named a third-team All-American and first-team All-SEC in his senior year when the Rebels made it to the Sweet Sixteen and finished No. 9 in the country.

Those teams were known for their hard-nosed defense and Lockhart has brought that same mentality to Madison Central.

"First I feel like defensively we put more pressure in the half court set than most schools," Lockhart said. "We play a little zone and we're going to play man-to-man, but we've just got to get used to denying the wings and putting pressure on the ball at all times."

That focus on defense has shown results with only two teams scoring more than 55 points on the Jaguars all season.

Lockhart said he's also about his guys playing aggressively. He wants them to be confident in their strengths and take the shot when it's there.

"I tell them to do what you do best, whether that's driving the lane or taking the perimeter shot," he said. "We're still getting them to recognize when they need to do certain things and it's been a challenge, but the guys are improving every day."

The Jaguars have no clear leader when it comes to scoring. Lockhart points out they have five or six guys averaging just under 10 points.

The team's leading scorer and defender is its big man, sophomore center Joniah White (6-foot-11, 180-pounds). The Grenada transfer is averaging a double double with 10.7 points per game and 10.3 rebounds.

He's also averaging around 7 blocks per game making him one of the state's top defensive big men.

"He brings a lot to the table defensively," Lockhart said. "He still has a lot of physical to make up because he's so skinny, but he's long. Once he beefs up he has a chance to be really, really good."

Lockhart is also enjoying the services of one of his lone seniors in point guard Brice Rowe (6-3, 180) who is averaging 9.3 points and 3.3 assists per game.

"He's providing a lot of leadership and work ethic," Lockhart said.

Junior Keon Spencer (6-3, 190) is filling in at forward and is averaging 9.5 points and 6.8 boards per game while two other sophomores, Xavian Stapleton (6-2, 165) and Chase Carroll (6-1, 160) fill out the regular starting lineup.

Also expected to contribute will be Keith Williams who joins the team after his time on the gridiron.

The Jaguars will play six more games before the start of the New Year, including three in the Gulfport Tournament just after Christmas.