- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

BRANDON, Miss. (AP) - Brandon’s Jayveous McKinnis didn’t really commit to basketball until around two years ago.

This month, he committed his next four years to playing the sport at Jackson State.

The 24 months since the 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior took up the game has been a whirlwind, with highs, lows and everything in between.

McKinnis‘ motivation is the promise he made to his father, Troy McKinnis, who passed at the age of 44 in August of 2015 after a lengthy battle with a rare kidney disease.

That sparked Jay’s interest in, and dedication to, basketball - his father’s favorite sport.

“I told him I was going to walk in his shoes as far as I could,” Jay said. “He couldn’t continue to play because of his condition, so I want to go further and keep playing in his honor.”

So McKinnis plays with the passion he hopes would make his father proud, wearing the number his dad wore.

It hasn’t been easy.

His dedication to fulfilling that promise started in earnest at Pearl. McKinnis made the team his junior year, but scored just 3 points a game and averaged 4.4 rebounds on a mediocre 15-17 Pirate team.

His numbers weren’t great, but he showed flashes of talent that didn’t go unnoticed by Brandon coach Fred Barnes. When McKinnis and his mother Shaquita - herself a former track star from Magee - moved to Brandon, Barnes knew exactly what he was getting.

“He was the difference for us,” Barnes said. “We already had the speed, but he added the size and toughness that we needed. We were already a good team, but he made us a Coliseum team.”

McKinnis made an immediate impact for Brandon, which was ranked No. 1 or 2 in the state almost all year. He averaged 9.2 points and pulled down 8.3 rebounds a game. He recorded 10 double-doubles and blocked 90 shots.

Barnes said McKinnis takes pride in effort plays, which is why he grabs so many rebounds.

“He did everything we asked him to do without grumbling or complaining,” Barnes said. “If he’s hurt, you’d have to ask him, because he’s not going to share it. He’s as humble as you could ever imagine.”

McKinnis had 12 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks in the state semifinal, which the Bulldogs lost to Murrah.

Barnes has had some good players over the years, but he thinks of only one name when asked who comes to mind when he watches McKinnis play.

It’s the name of an old player from Mendenhall who Barnes played against when he was growing up in Collins - Troy McKinnis.

“His dad was on the team that eliminated us from the South State Tournament in my senior year,” Barnes said. “We did battle every year starting in ninth grade, and Jay is like the second coming. He’s got the same length and skills, and he loves to block shots like his dad did.”

That McKinnis has come so far in so little time hasn’t gone unnoticed. On top of his scholarship from Jackson State, he had offers from every junior college in the state, a few out of state, Mississippi College and Tougaloo.

Barnes said he called Brent about McKinnis over the summer, and that Jackson State coaches had kept an eye on him ever since.

“I told him, ‘This kid is a next level player.’” Barnes said. “He plays like a 7-footer. I wanted someone to grab him, and I wanted it to be someone like Brent, who’s good to the kids and the coaches after they get them in the fold.”

McKinnis said he hasn’t talked to JSU coaches about what role he’ll play with Jackson State, but knows the chance to play early is there.

Brent has to replace his most productive interior player, departing senior Janarius Middleton, and the Tigers just hobbled their way through one of the most injury-riddled seasons in school history.

Whether he plays early or takes on a learning role, you can bet McKinnis will operate in a manner of which he thinks Troy would be proud.

“It’s what drives me,” he said.

___

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, https://www.clarionledger.com

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