By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
He was one of the great players in Louisiana high school basketball history on one of the great teams in state history, playing in what became one of the great games in state tournament history.
But Willie Jackson had almost nothing to do with one of the great moments in the history of the state basketball tournament, then known as the Top 20.
With four seconds left in the 1980 Class B state semifinal game in Alexandria, Sibley was down 56-55, having blown a three-point lead in the final 30 seconds. But there is perspective involved here; this wasn’t your routine last-second attempt at a buzzer beater.
The Raiders came into the game against Leonville with an undefeated record and attempting to break the national record for wins in an unbeaten season. Not only were they 56-0, but had won 24 straight from the previous year.
But unless something crazy happened, there would be no national record – or shot at the state championship. Sibley was four seconds away from seeing an 80-game winning streak snapped.
Four seconds was all coach Don Stahl needed.
He remembered being in a similar situation against Dubach so he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Somewhere along the way, obviously, the ball would get to Jackson, the team’s leading scorer at 22.1 per game.
Except that it didn’t.
Lost in what would happen next was that Sibley’s Sonny Bridges had acted quickly to call time out after the Leonville basket had put the Raiders behind by a point. (Remember, this was before the tenths of a second were on scoreboards, so there could have been as much as 4.9 seconds left.)
Deware Jones had to inbound the ball and was looking for Jackson, but threw it to Bridges who dribbled twice across midcourt. “I was double-teamed,” said Jackson, who has coached in Shreveport for more than 20 years. “No way he could throw it to me.”
Bridges passed to Ronnie Nicholson at the top of the key, who had to make an instant decision on whether to take the shot or not. Instead, he passed to Carl Myles on the baseline, who immediately took the 12-footer.
About a foot after the ball left Myles’ hand, the horn sounded. Less than a second later, the Raiders were still undefeated.
Final score: Sibley 57, Leonville 56. Every Raider on the floor touched the ball … except Willie Jackson.
Two days later, the Raiders went on to beat Holy Rosary 72-61. Trailing 18-7 after one quarter, Jackson took over the game in the second quarter. He scored 37 points, making 15 of 20 from the floor and 7 of 11 free throws.
In the next game that night in what was then known as Rapides Parish Coliseum, Woodlawn beat Ouachita 67-55 for the Class 4A title (then the highest classification in the state) to finish 30-2 for coach Melvin Russell.
Which led to the great debate: Who would win between the Class B and Class 4A champions? “We wanted to play them,” Jackson said. “Everybody wanted to see that game. Melvin always talks about how they would have torn us up. We sure would have played them, but that never took place.”
Sibley broke the record of Snook (Texas) High School, who went 52-0 in 1965-66. It was the second straight championship for Raiders, who had also lost in the state semifinals during Jackson’s freshman and sophomore years.
After Jackson signed with Centenary, Sibley would go on to make it 100 straight the next year before losing to Doyline on Nov. 22, 1980, in the Raiders own tournament.
“Those are good memories during that time,” Jackson said. “Every time out, the pressure was on. The other team was shooting for us and they’d play their best game. We were great defensively and we had a passing game where we were always cutting toward the basket to try to score. We had several athletes who could really play. We played well together.”
It was Stahl who made it all work.
“He was a disciplinarian,” Jackson said. “He expected more out of us whenever we went out there. I was a thin guy (6-foot-3) who could jump and shoot the basketball.”
And one who, like his teammates, wanted to stay on the floor.
“We’d blow teams out all the time,” Jackson said. “We’d tell each other ‘Don’t foul’ because the clock will stop and he’ll get the subs in. There were a lot of games that we didn’t play full games. I’m not bragging but we were pretty decent.”
Jackson went to star at Centenary, where he is still the school’s all-time leading scorer almost 40 years after he scored his 2,535th point. He also remains the school’s No. 2 career rebounder, trailing only Robert Parish. Jackson was drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Rockets in 1984.
Leonville High School no longer exists (it was part of the consolidation that formed Beau Chene High), but you can bet there is someone in St. Landry Parish who still hasn’t gotten over those four seconds.
Holy Rosary, a historic black Catholic school in Lafayette, closed in 1993. Sibley High was also part of a consolidation, becoming Lakeside High in 2000.
Don Stahl died at age 56 on Jan. 16, 1994. One of his pallbearers was Willie Jackson.