Tougaloo College will play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Men’s Basketball Championship, which starts today in Kansas City Missouri, and two local Natchez players will be on the court.
Former Natchez High player Dearius Griffin is now a senior on the Tougaloo basketball team and will bring his experience to the tournament in Tougaloo’s 4 p.m. game today against Mid America Christian.
Also on the Tougaloo Bulldogs’ roster is 6-foot, 1-inch tall Derrick Ashley, a junior, who lists his hometown as Natchez but who played high school ball at Oak Grove High School.
Griffin, a 6-foot 3-inch tall shooting guard, who has played four years of college ball, including two years at Copiah Lincoln Community College, said he is confident and ready to compete in the tournament.
“We weren’t ranked nationally last year,” Griffin said, “but this year we are ranked No. 4 in the country.”
Tougaloo has an overall 28-4 record and a conference 12-2 record in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference.
The Tougaloo Bulldogs’ invitation came by way of their victory in the Conference Championship game, where they beat Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, by the score of 91-85.
Griffin said that he has heard from former teammates and family since the team’s Monday arrival at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
“I’m ready, and going to keep moving forward and bring the ring home,” Griffin said. “It’s a real good environment and a real big stage to be on.”
Griffin played all three years from 2012 to 2015 at Natchez High for coach Mike Martin, and Martin said he remembers Griffin very well.
“He was always in love with the game of basketball,” Martin said. “He took his basketball very seriously even at practice.”
Martin praised Griffin’s college coaches as well.
“I really respect Co-Lin coach Kenny Bizot, who was a real good coach for Dearius his two years there,” Martin said. “Now he plays for coach Thomas Billups, who coached Lanier High in Jackson to many state championships.”
The Bulldogs of Tougaloo will play in the first round against The Mid American Christian Evangels from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Bulldogs with their impressive 28-4 record are a 1 seed in their tournament bracket.