There was plenty of local flavor when the Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches announced its slate of awards, highlighted by Bossier City native Mike McConathy named 2023 Mr. Louisiana Basketball.
Another strong season by the LSUS Pilots brought LABC accolades to coach Kyle Blankenship and senior star Jalen Brooks, a Woodlawn High product.
Blankenship has once again earned the Louisiana Small College Coach of the Year award. Brooks was an obvious pick as the state Small College Player of the Year after his dominant season. They led LSUS to a 26-8 record and a Round of 16 appearance in the NAIA Tournament after claiming their third straight Red River Athletic Conference championship.
The state’s college basketball head coaches voted on the awards, which will be presented May 6 in Baton Rouge at a 6 p.m. banquet that is held in conjunction with the LABC’s annual convention.
McConathy was a prep All-America player at Airline High School who turned down offers from Oklahoma, LSU and Arkansas and became one of Louisiana Tech’s great players, averaging over 20 points per game in his career (1973-77). He began his coaching career in charge of the fledgling Airline girls’ program, and moved to Bossier Parish Community College to start a basketball program there in 1983.
Sixteen years later, McConathy’s Cavaliers had a 352-159 record with 23 or more wins in his last seven seasons before he moved down Interstate 49 to Natchitoches to breathe life into a long-downtrodden Northwestern State program. The Demons had only five winning seasons in 24 years of Division I competition and had never played for a conference title, let alone advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
In his first year, NSU reached the Southland Tournament title game. In the second season, the Demons captured the title and won an NCAA Tournament Opening Round game. McConathy’s teams won 330 games in his 23 seasons at Northwestern, also reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and 2013, toppling 15th-ranked Iowa, the Big Ten Tournament champion, in a 2006 first-round upset.
He became the state’s leader in coaching victories, finishing with 682 wins. His program was noted for an exemplary record of community service as well as educational initiatives, and almost 90 percent of McConathy’s players graduated from Northwestern.
McConathy took the Demons to three NCAA Tournaments (2001, 2006, 2013), making history by defeating Winthrop, 71-67, in the 2001 play-in game – the first of its kind. Five years later, he and his Demons authored one of March Madness’ signature buzzer-beaters as Jermaine Wallace’s corner 3-pointer capped a 64-63 upset of No. 3 seed Iowa in which NSU trailed by 17 with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Blankenship has led LSUS to 11 straight NAIA Tournament appearances and will win the LABC honor for the fourth time in that span. He has an overall 256-88 record with the Pilots.
Brooks earned NAIA All-America honors and RRAC Player of the Year recognition for his play this past season. He averaged 22.5 points (8th nationally) and 11.2 rebounds (2nd nationally) as an explosive 6-5 forward.