By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports
The last game of the regular season was more than just the final game before playoffs started for the Calvary Baptist Academy boys’ basketball team. When the Cavaliers traveled to Green Oaks on Feb. 15 to take on the Giants in a non-district matchup, La’Bree Williams, Jr., wanted to make a statement.
He made it loud and clear. The 6-foot-6 senior led Calvary to a 66-51 victory with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. The 210-pound power forward, who averaged 21.3 points during the regular season, is one of the state’s top-ranked recruits.
“I was just feeling it,” Williams said of the Green Oaks game. “The coach for SFA (Stephen F. Austin) was in the building so I wanted to play as advertised.”
Not only did the victory extend Calvary’s win streak to 12 games, it got the Cavs ready for their first-round matchup against Cedar Creek (Ruston) in the LHSAA Division IV boys’ basketball playoffs.
As anticipated, the District 1-1A champions (21-9) dominated the Cougars (11-14) Wednesday night. Williams posted 15 points and 11 rebounds while Calvary polished off the visitors, 81-39.
While beginning what’s expected to be an extended playoff run, it was difficult for the Cavs to not let the memory of last season’s championship game creep in – a little bit. Or maybe even recollections of the year before.
For the past two years, Calvary has fallen to Crescent City in the state championship game. When it happened again last March, coach Vic Morris immediately began planting the seeds to finish 2022 in style.
“The morning after the championship game last year, I called all the boys and told them we needed to start getting ready,” said Morris. “We needed to work harder.”
“That has been our mindset this year,” said Williams. “Every practice we work harder.”
The hard work doesn’t take place just during the regular practice session. It’s not unusual to see Williams and teammate Martin McDowell taking shots long after practice has ended. The chemistry between the two seniors is part of the reason the Cavs finished the regular season as the No. 3 ranked team in the Class 1A state rankings. McDowell, a 5-foot-11 point guard, also made a statement in the Green Oaks game, scoring 20 points with six 3-pointers.
“This team is special for a number of reasons,” explained Morris. “First, the chemistry and culture of this team is so close. They’re all like brothers and they hold each other accountable. Also, we’re a deeper team. We’ve got guys that can play multiple positions.”
Williams agrees that the chemistry between the players is the reason the Cavs have been so successful on the court this season. In fact, bonding on the basketball court has been part of his life since the second grade.
It didn’t take Williams long to fall in love with the sport. Growing up in California, he would spend countless hours at the neighborhood park. And it didn’t take long before people noticed.
“I was taller than everybody else back then,” Williams said with a smile. “My nana in Long Beach had a basketball hoop so my cousins and I would start playing as soon as we woke up.”
It was during his third-grade year that Williams and his family moved to Shreveport. For the past four years, he has been an integral part of Calvary’s success on the basketball court.
“He just has a natural ability to play,” Morris said when asked what makes Williams stand out. “He works really hard. And he has a feel for the game, an IQ for the game.”
When asked the same question, McDowell is quick to say, “He does whatever it takes to win. He is as disciplined as can be. He’s a good dude. He has a good heart.”
That heart is what led Williams to volunteer McDowell and himself to coach basketball to little kids.
“I walked in one day and was told La’Bree had volunteered us to coach,” recalled McDowell. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Perhaps coaching will be in Williams’ future. Or perhaps it just takes him back to those California days on the neighborhood basketball court when he was the little kid falling in love with the sport.
For now, all eyes will be on Williams and the Cavaliers in the state playoffs.
“We want to get back to the state championship,” said Williams. “We remember how we felt last year. We don’t want to feel that way again.
Photo by HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD