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Caleb Turrentine / The Tribune Tallassee’s Jamicah Humphrey (4) shoots over Elmore County’s Cole Downey (11).

As the Tallassee Lions Club 2019 Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament started winding down last week, it was clear the Tigers were going to walk away as champions but the only question remaining was who would take home the extra hardware as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Tallassee pulled away in the second half from Elmore County to win the boys championship 66-29 behind an all-around performance from guard Jamicah Humphrey.

“He exhibited the total package,” Tallassee coach Keiven Mixson said. “He got down and guarded. He pushed the ball and was a scoring threat each night. He was probably one of the best defenders in the tournament and he was the best scorer.”

After leading the Tigers with 20 points in the first game, Humphrey responded by upping his defensive intensity and finishing as the game’s leading scorer again in the championship. He finished with 15 points, which included three 3-pointers, to go along with five assists and three steals.

Humphrey got off to a shaky start offensively, missing his first four shots as the Tigers did not get on the board for almost four minutes. However, Tallassee upped the pressure against the Panthers and Humphrey got two steals, both leading to points as the Tigers took their first lead and never looked back.

“It’s all about my footwork,” Humphrey said. “We added some new defenses to put some more pressure on the opponent. We want to play hard defense and get a lot of turnovers.”

Elmore County finished with 10 turnovers in the first quarter, the final one leading to a 3-pointer from Humphrey to give the Tigers an 18-2 lead after eight minutes. Just 12 seconds into the second quarter, Humphrey knocked down another triple before turning into the offense’s facilitator.

Humphrey had three assists in the second quarter, all leading to easy layups for the Tigers. It was once again Tallassee’s defense leading to offense and Mixson said getting the ball in Humphrey’s hands in transition is a big key to this season’s early success.

“That’s very important for us,” Mixson said. “We have some length and we want to press. It’s about playing at a consistent standard and playing hard every night. He’s a competitor. He wants to be the best on both sides of the ball.”

Last season, Humphrey led the Tigers with 14.4 points per game and his offensive production was expected to take a step up but he said he has been working a lot on the defensive side.

“Everyone knew him as a scorer last year and he’s still a scorer but he is really relishing the role of being a defender,” Mixson said. “That’s the stuff a coach loves to see. Defense doesn’t always get in the stat book but that means a lot.”

Elmore County lives off the success of point guard Payton Stephenson and Humphrey got the defensive assignment of containing Stephenson throughout the night. Humphrey never let up, even as the lead continued to grow, and held the Panthers’ leading scorer to just five points and one assist with four turnovers. 

Despite making the tournament championship look easy, Humphrey said it was important for the Tigers to stay focused and continue to get better. Tallassee has won six straight games to open the season but after winning 15 consecutive games in the regular season last year, the Tigers know it is going to take more to achieve their goals.

“We are just getting better,” Humphrey said. “We have to keep getting ready for those bigger and better teams. We’re just having fun and competing.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.