Wondering if there’s a little magic left in the shrewdly-managed Mulkey Miracle

Watching the Ohio State-Virginia Tech women’s basketball regional final, where the halftime score is 48-45, and remembering LSU’s 54-42 victory over Miami the night before.

Didn’t watch Iowa’s 97-83 regional championship win Sunday night over Louisville, but our lunch bunch women’s basketball expert, Steve Graf, reported Monday that Hawkeyes’ guard Caitlin Clark is the best college player in America, male or female. Her 41-point, 10-rebound, 12-assist performance supports Graf’s assessment, which was drawn from his eyeballs, not analytics.

Tuned in last night at the end of South Carolina’s 86-75 cruise past Maryland, only to get the final score. We all knew the Gamecocks would roll, because Kim Mulkey told us so in LSU’s postgame press conference Sunday night.

You gonna argue with Kim? I’m not gonna argue with Kim. NCAA Tournament officials don’t. They endure her histrionics and don’t dare to hit her with a technical foul, when any other coach grimacing and grousing at that level would be served an unsweet T. She’s earned the right with her resume’.

I am gonna disagree with Kim, while I praise her (and her wardrobe). She’s shrewdly developed her second Tiger team – that nobody, nowhere thought would still be playing this week – and a vital part of that was patience. Patience was possible because Mulkey made it so.

Referring you back to the Nov. 16 Journal:

While she fits new pieces together with her second Tigers’ team, and awaits the arrival next season of Parkway’s extraordinary student-athlete Mikaylah Williams, Mulkey’s non-conference schedule is softer than your pillow.  Her team will face tougher tests during fall semester final exams.

Sunday night, Mulkey made reference to critics of the pliable part of the 2022-23 slate. Obviously the attention paid to the layup drill schedule prior to Southeastern Conference competition is a burr in the Tigers’ saddle.

LSU’s strength of schedule in the NCAA’s ratings? Try 315, of roughly 350 Division I teams. Question that? Bellarmine, Mississippi Valley, Western Carolina, Houston Christian, Northwestern State, all at home to begin. George Mason and UAB in the Bahamas, then back to the PMAC for Southeastern Louisiana, down to Tulane (the toughest test before SEC play), home for Lamar, then to Hawaii for Montana State and Oregon State. The only NCAA Tournament team: the Lady Lions of Southeastern.

So what did LSU get out of that cakewalk? There were points of contention. SLU remarkably played LSU to 63-55 on Nov. 29, making former Lady Lion star Robin Roberts (who played with a ponytail, compared to Mulkey’s pigtails) proud. In the next outing, just off St. Charles Avenue in cozy Fogelman Arena, Tulane stayed in range at 85-73.

Here’s what that not-very-competitive cruise through November and December did for LSU. There was steady development without any crisis of confidence in an unproven group. Of course the toughest times were in practice with the masterful Mulkey bringing along her refurbished roster to prepare for the SEC, and March.

All of this makes me wonder if LSU can keep up Friday night in Dallas at the Women’s Final Four.

Doesn’t look like the Tigers can score with Virginia Tech, who hung 87 on Ohio State.

Until you mention one of Mulkey’s favorite words: defense. None of the three other Final Four teams D-up as well. South Carolina, with Philly street-tough coach Dawn Staley, is the only one comparable.

LSU will have a decided homecourt advantage with DFW-area alumni.

I’ll take the Tigers in the semis, to gobble up VaTech. Bet the under.

It’s hard to forecast a South Carolina loss, especially glancing back at the Gamecocks’ 88-64 victory over LSU Feb. 12 – at Columbia, S.C.  However, it was not a 40-minute mangling – the spread was just five late in the third quarter.

If the two square off Sunday night for the natty, I’d take LSU and the points. If there are not too many points on the scoreboard, Mulkey might just pull off the biggest surprise in Women’s Final Four history.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

NCAA’s revised transfer rules cramp Coleman, outbound Demon duo

PATIENTLY LOOKING:  Captain Shreve product Kendal Coleman (4) intends to find a new basketball home after leaving Northwestern State last spring and entering the transfer portal last week following a season at LSU. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The NCAA transfer portal has gotten speed bumps installed.

That will stall plans for Shreveport’s Kendal Coleman and a couple of prominent departing Northwestern State players to be on the court at their new schools next season.

Coleman, who played a reserve role in 21 games this winter at LSU, announced last week that he was looking for a new hoops home, with more playing time as the obvious objective. Last March, the Captain Shreve product ended his days as a Northwestern State Demon, where he had emerged as an All-Southland Conference forward under Mike McConathy.

Meanwhile, among eight Demons departing NSU following Corey Gipson’s one-and-done, 22-win turn as head coach, at least six are joining Gipson at Austin Peay. But two, starting guard Isaac Haney and 7-foot-3 inside presence Jordan Wilmore, will  have to sit out next season to regain eligibility.

In a development not widely known until a recent social media push, the NCAA has tightened transfer rules, especially as they apply to second-time transfers from four-year schools. Since Coleman left NSU for LSU, and is now relocating again, he’ll have to sit out a year. Same for Haney and Wilmore going from their previous schools to Northwestern and now to Austin Peay.

Fortunately for all three players, each has a redshirt season remaining. But for Haney and Wilmore, there’s some sting since the Demons’ dynamic duo of Southland Conference Player of the Year DeMarcus Sharp and second-team All-SLC guard Ja’Monte Black will exhaust their college eligibility next season at Austin Peay.

Sharp and Black will have to graduate from Northwestern this spring or summer to be eligible as graduate transfers, but are said to be on track to do so.

The adjusted portal rules changed without fanfare but to significant impact, said NSU assistant athletics director for compliance Dustin Eubanks, who noted nothing is set in stone.

“They didn’t like the transfer landscape and this is what they’ve come up with; but remember, this is what we have right now. It could change next year, or even in the next couple of months,” he said. “For the kids transferring for 2023-24, these are the rules we have to follow now.”

There are some extreme cases that can result in a waiver for second-time transfers, including instances of assault or other violence, mental health, injury or illness. It’s no longer simply about a better opportunity to play or a desire to follow a coach to a new school.

“That’s the doors they’ve closed. There’s nothing there for kids who are undergraduates, unless there’s a pretty egregious situation they encountered at their current school,” said Eubanks.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

All-Star Game reveals why Mikaylah Williams shines so brightly

STRATEGY SESSION:  Parkway High’s Mikaylah Williams (12) listens to Airline coach Lyndzee McConathy (foreground, blonde hair) during a timeout last Saturday at the Louisiana High School Coaches’ Association Girls Basketball All-Star Game in Pineville. (Photo by BRET MCCORMICK)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

For all of the memories repeat Shreveport-Bossier Journal All-Metro Outstanding Player Mikaylah Williams created in her incredible basketball career at Parkway High School, what she did before the Louisiana High School Coaches Association’s All-Star Game last Saturday was particularly remarkable to Airline High coach Lyndzee McConathy.

McConathy was the head coach of the West team that included prep All-American Williams, an LSU signee ranked by many analysts as the cream of the crop in the country’s 2023 recruiting class.

It wasn’t Williams’ pregame workout routine that left an indelible impression. It was her pregame work ethic – using a broom.

When the team entered ancient H.O. West Fieldhouse on the Louisiana Christian University campus in Pineville on game day, the court was dusty. Williams didn’t wait for someone else to remedy that. She found a broom leaning against a wall and resolutely, cheerfully cleaned the floor.

“When you walk into a facility as a player, you’re ready to go. You have things you need to do, a routine,” said McConathy, an All-State player for her parents, 33-year coaching veterans, at South Beauregard High before playing in the 2006 All-Star Game and then for four years at Northwestern State. There, she met her husband, Logan McConathy, who played for his dad, Mike McConathy, for the Demons.

Watching Williams handle a broom as effortlessly as she does a basketball, sweeping the court like she sweeps through defenders, gave McConathy some déjà vu. Her father-in-law often did the same thing before NSU workouts and games, home and away.

“It was just natural to her. The floor was dirty. She found a broom and made it better,” the Lady Vikings coach said. “That’s something Coach Mike used to do, and something he taught me: ‘Do something without being asked, for somebody else, and that goes a long way.’”

When your best player sets that kind of example, success follows, she said. It did last Saturday in Pineville. In an 88-63 victory that saw 15-point scorer Williams win Co-MVP honors, the West held off a late push by the East team – coached by another former NSU player, Ruston coach Meredith Graf, who happens to be best friends with the Airline coach.

“When you’re roommates, teammates and best friends, as long as we’ve been, there had been trash talk this whole time leading up to the weekend. Our former Lady Demon teammates were all texting and messaging us, getting in on the deal,” said McConathy. “But how cool is it to experience this honor with your bestie?”

It was also cool to get to coach arguably the nation’s No. 1 girls’ player. McConathy has known Williams for years but got unique insight last weekend, and is supremely confident that Kim Mulkey’s Tigers are going to soar in the next four years with the Parkway alumnus in purple and gold.

“Her mom was a Lady Demon before me, so I’ve always known the kid, but never had the privilege of coaching her. It’s so much better to have her on your team. She just makes everything easier, because of her high-level IQ, her respect for the game, and her enthusiasm for her teammates,” said McConathy. “She was leading cheers on the bench, and she made the entire weekend a celebration. She’s an all-around, all-star kid, and that’s a reflection of the amazing parents (Pat and LaTonya Williams) she has.”

She was not alone. You might think that in an all-star game, players want their shining moments, some with little regard for anyone else. But that was far from what McConathy experienced.

“We did a lot of team-building exercises, but I think the beauty of it is the fact they’re all all-stars. They have all-star personalities, all-star commitment levels, and the basketball IQ of all-stars.

“The girls were super respectful. You could just tell they were college-level players. Everything they did, they did at a high level. They practiced hard, they played hard. It was the epitome of why it’s called the All-Star Game. We had top-of-the-line girls,” she said.

One was Benton’s Marissa Schoth, who started alongside Williams.

“Marissa plays HARD. We put her defending one of the best players on the East and she got after it,” said McConathy. “She was a lot of fun to coach.”

Another special element of the weekend was having her father-in-law, Louisiana’s winningest all-time college basketball coach, as the keynote speaker for the Friday night All-Star Dinner with both 15-girl teams, LHSCA officials and others.

“He’s so modest, I didn’t know he was speaking until the week of the event. It was really cool to see the respect people have for him, and that he always lives up to that and then some,” she said. “How lucky were we to have him speak on the 17th anniversary of the win over Iowa in the NCAA Tournament? That made it even more special for everyone at the dinner.”

The All-Star experience created indelible memories for all involved. For McConathy, as she coaches javelin throwers for the Airline track team this spring and looks forward to building her basketball team for next season and years to come, she saw one trait that she hopes to share with players for the rest of her career.

“The biggest thing that I walked away with was the understanding that the skill level of the player does not matter as much as the heart does,” she said. “When the player loves the game, it magnifies her abilities. I saw so many levels of abilities, but I saw every girl have the love of the game.”

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Saint Rick? New NSU basketball coach has glowing testimonials

NEXT UP AT NSU:  Rick Cabrera, announced Wednesday as the new Northwestern State basketball coach, has made strongly positive impact at prior stops. (Photo courtesy Tallahassee Community College)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES — “I find it a little ironic that the Demons hired a saint.”

That from Ryan Kelly, sports director at Tallahassee’s WCTV Channel 6, talking about new Northwestern State basketball coach Rick Cabrera, who leads his Tallahassee Community College Eagles into the Elite Eight of the National Junior College Athletic Association championships today.

Cabrera, 47, a veteran of 13 seasons as a Division I assistant coach and with a 151-44 record in six years as a junior college head coach, was announced Wednesday as the Demons’ replacement for one-year wonder (22 wins) Corey Gipson.

“Through the two years I’ve covered him, Rick Cabrera has been so gracious, so kind,” said Kelly. “That intensity that he brings on the floor is obvious. You know how animated he is, how invested he is, and it’s because he’s invested in his players. You can see by the way they perform on the floor that they feed off that.”

It’s happening in Hutchinson, Kan., at the NJCAA Tournament. TCC (30-5) entered as the 12th seed, scored a three-point win Tuesday (for Cabrera’s 150th career coaching victory), then shocked No. 5 Salt Lake 94-93 in overtime Wednesday.

“This team is playing without arguably its best player, and it doesn’t mean anything. He has a point guard drop 48 (Wednesday) like it’s no big deal,” said Kelly. “That’s what these guys do. They play hard for him. They hustle for him, because he’s done the same for them. He’s willing to take chances on them, to fight for them.

“A players’ coach, yes, and I get that in some corners that’s not always well received because people assume he’s not disciplined. He runs a tight ship, and TCC is better for it. It’s very clear that everything he does, it’s with his players in mind, and he’s inclusive. People love the sense of community he’s built around that Eagles’ program,” said Kelly.

Even more compelling:  rave reviews from two former NSU coaches who worked with Cabrera in a couple of his previous Division I stops. One is former Tennessee Tech head coach Steve Payne, his boss with the Golden Eagles as Cabrera worked first as an assistant coach, then associate head coach from 2012-17.

“I adore the guy, and he’s just a fantastic fit in Natchitoches and at Northwestern,” said Payne, who has known Cabrera since 2004. “The NSU family, and that community, will love him and his family. He’ll want people to come watch practice, to buy in, to be included.

“He’ll be great to work with. He’s just a good dude, a really fun, super solid guy,” said Payne, who got his Division I start on J.D. Barnett’s NSU staff from 1994-98.

“From a basketball perspective, he knows good players. He’s brought them into every program he’s been in. People in the profession like him. They’re going to try to help him succeed. His players will love him.”

Travis Janssen, who was Austin Peay’s baseball coach while Cabrera was an assistant on the Governors’ basketball staff from 2017-19, and Janssen’s wife Christy were overjoyed.

“He personifies class in every way. Be sure that’s in there,” said Janssen, a Demon baseball assistant under Mitch Gaspard from 2002-04. “He’s a stud, a family guy. He and his wife will embrace the town, with their four kids making great friends. They’ll be visible.  I think the world of Mike McConathy, one of the great people I’ll ever know. I think Coach Mike will love spending time with him. Rick is a purely good person.

“When I heard, I was shocked, in a good way. I told Christy, ‘How great is this?’  About every November we say, ‘wouldn’t it be great to come back to Natchitoches for the Christmas Festival,’ and with three kids and all we have going, we haven’t made it yet. Rick being there, that would make it even more special to get back.”

As to Cabrera’s coaching chops, what he’s accomplished in Tallahassee is winning as an under-resourced member of the Panhandle Conference, anchored by powerhouse programs Northwest Florida State and Chipola CC.

“There are so many obstacles because other programs have big legs up in this league, and he has been able to power TCC past all that,” said Kelly. “To see what some of the others have compared to what TCC has, and know his teams are not just competitive, but they’ve won the league, it’s really impressive and I commend him for it.”

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Demons near new basketball coach as roster empties

OUTBOUND:  DeMarcus Sharp, recently named Southland Conference Player of the Year in his first and only season at Northwestern State, is among seven Demons who entered the transfer portal Monday. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State is moving toward announcing its new men’s basketball coach today or Wednesday, and he will apparently inherit little of the production from the Demons’ 22-win season under departed coach Corey Gipson.

Monday, all five players who started at the end of the regular season and in the Southland Conference Tournament championship game entered the NCAA’s transfer portal, along with at least two key reserves. While entering the portal does not require a player to leave, it indicates a strong interest in transferring.

Heading the list: Southland Conference Player of the Year DeMarcus Sharp, second-team all-conference pick Ja’Monta Black, and standout defender Isaac Haney – all who followed Gipson, a longtime assistant at Missouri State, to NSU last spring.

Also entering the portal from the starting lineup two weeks ago was the team’s leading rebounder, freshman forward Jalen Hampton, and freshman Hansel Enmanuel, whose exploits playing despite having only one arm have built a global social media audience over 4.2 million.

Key inside reserves Dayne Prim and Jordan Wilmore also went into the portal on Monday. Combined, the seven players apparently leaving Northwestern averaged 64.2 of the team’s 74.6 points per game and 25.3 of the Demons’ 33.8 rebounding average. The team’s top four scorers, the only ones averaging in double figures, are outbound as of Monday.

Gipson relied on transfers and recruits to build the roster for his first and only season at Northwestern. After posting a 22-11 record (13-5, good for second, in the Southland), Gipson was hired last weekend as head coach at his alma mater, Austin Peay, and reportedly is bringing his entire NSU coaching staff along – notably associate head coach Rodney Hamilton, reported to have been a candidate to replace Gipson.

Sources said anticipating Gipson’s exit, NSU president Dr. Marcus Jones and athletics director Kevin Bostian engaged a search consultant to identify coaching candidates, likely the same one — Kyle Bowlsby – who last year identified Gipson and Bostian as hires at Northwestern.

The announcement of a new coach could come as early as today, barring late developments, sources said.

After averaging 19.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.9 steals for the Demons, Sharp told ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Borzello that he has interest from Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, Mississippi State, Loyola of Chicago, Central Florida and St. Louis, along with Austin Peay, in the hours since entering the portal.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

It’s galling to be grumbling for Grambling

I’ve got a case of March Madness. I’ll treat it today with a load of boiled crawfish and total immersion in the NCAA Tournament. That’s worked every year except when I rode Mike McConathy’s Northwestern State bus into the Big Dance in 2001, 2006 and 2013, along with the time four years ago when my gall bladder entered the transfer portal.

That Friday night, I was on Oxycodone hours after surgery and so it had to be a hallucination when 16th-seeded Maryland-Baltimore County blasted No. 1 Virginia 74-54. Just like later in the evening when my bed was vertical and I could see Paul McCartney’s guitar and jacket below my feet, laid out neatly on the floor.

Four years to the day, I find myself grumbling for Grambling. 

Last night as I watched Texas Southern getting cracked in the First Four, I was sick for the Grambling Tigers, who would have been a much more accomplished Southwestern Athletic Conference representative.

Our Tigers were not only a SWAC regular-season co-champion, with a 24-9 record that included wins over a bad Colorado team and a Vanderbilt squad that finished tied for fourth in the SEC, but their brand would have added luster to the NCAA Tournament field.

For that matter, the Tigers would have added luster to the NCAA-run NIT and they should have been included there. That was discretionary and that was a bad blunder by that selection committee.

Grambling had every chance to be in the Big Dance. But the Tigers stumbled at the worst time, in the SWAC Tournament finals, losing for the first time in 12 games, 61-58 to Texas Southern. Coach Donte’ Jackson’s G-Men hit a painful 25 percent of their first-half shots, falling behind 22-5 in the first 10 minutes. Although they rallied back to a 43-all tie, they just couldn’t get control over a TSU squad they had beaten by 19 in Grambling on Feb. 11 and by 13 in Houston on Jan. 4.

Texas Southern entered the SWAC Tournament on a three-game skid. The Texas Tigers stunned regular-season co-champ Alcorn State to start a three-game winning streak – equaling two others during the SWAC slate as their best this season under coach Johnny Jones (yes, the former LSU point guard and head coach).

By getting hot at the right time, TSU gave Jones his sixth NCAA Tournament berth as a coach, and his third straight in five seasons in the SWAC. That should make the DeRidder native upwardly mobile in the job market in the coming days, if he wants a big raise and a step up on the mid-major pecking order.

Grambling was beaten fair and square. But it didn’t help that the SWAC’s postseason tournament format, with the eight qualifiers paired in four quarterfinal games, doesn’t reward the top teams over nine weeks of conference play.

For a one-bid league, the Southland Conference is superior with its bracket, which protects the top two teams until the semifinals. The four lowest seeds meet in an opening round, then the survivors meet the Nos. 3-4 seeds in quarterfinals, with the winners moving on to the semis.

Two more one-bid leagues of local interest, Conference USA and the Sun Belt, along with the SEC and the Big XII, also use tournament formats that place a premium on regular-season conference performance. Why doesn’t the SWAC? 

Instead, an eighth-place team got equal SWAC Tournament status with the co-champions, beat both, and surged into March Madness – where it got drubbed 84-61. 

Meanwhile, the SWAC’s best representative watched and winced last night in Lincoln Parish. I hope they had some crawfish.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Good for Gipson, who gave NSU his best in his short stay

Don’t blame Corey Gipson one bit. Thank him for his remarkable season — no, that’s not plural — as Northwestern State’s men’s basketball coach.

Accept the new paradigm in college sports. You may detest the transfer portal, not to mention Name, Image and Likeness payments to athletes. But those are defining standards these days.

Coaching moves after brief stays were happening before the portal or NIL. They felt like the portal, and resulted from the motivation behind the NIL. There’s lots of money in reach climbing the ladder in college sports. Now the players can access it, too.

Sources indicate by moving to Austin Peay, Gipson will nearly double his $160,000 base salary at NSU as the Governors open a new arena. Those are undeniable and understandable incentives. It’s his alma mater, where he played in Austin Peay’s glory days. Can’t deny that appeal, although it’s a nice sidebar, not the primary motivation.

Also nice for Northwestern: a contract buyout, said to be at least $100,000 and maybe almost twice that,  a tab his new employer will have to pay the Demons. APSU’s $178 million university budget would rank third in Louisiana higher education, behind only LSU and UL Lafayette, nearly $100 million higher than Northwestern’s, so the Govs can do such things.

Speculation that has swirled for weeks about Gipson’s upward mobility crystalized over the weekend, with reputable national basketball observers and others reporting he was heading to Austin Peay after one 22-win season in Natchitoches. APSU made it official with a Tweet posting its announcement Sunday night.

Gipson spent 356 days as the Demons’ coach. Don’t let that upset you.

He accomplished a bunch, built around a core of three outstanding players – DeMarcus Sharp, Ja’Monta Black and Isaac Haney – who loyally followed him to Natchitoches from Missouri State, where Gipson was an assistant coach for seven seasons. He boldly signed Hansel Enmanuel, whose journey from the amputation of his left arm when he was six had already earned global notice and a huge social media following.

The patient development of Enmanuel into a player able to start and play some significant minutes as the season ended is a fabulous achievement for all involved, especially Gipson. The mind-blowing exposure Northwestern got in conventional and social media pathways was justifiably phenomenal, and the young man proved he was not a “dog and pony show,” Gipson said after the Southland Conference Tournament championship loss on Wednesday.

Gipson continued the long tradition of community service established by his predecessor, Mike McConathy, who received a prestigious National Association of Basketball Coaches’ “Guardians of the Game” award in 2012 for community outreach through educational initiatives off campus.  Gipson, staff and coaches did a wonderful job coming in blind and quickly getting involved across the community with good causes, and making new inroads. They were quite justified in talking about it, although the impression of some that it was beyond comparison to anything prior with the program was way off-base.

Northwestern president Dr. Marcus Jones and athletics director Kevin Bostian surely knew Gipson’s departure became inevitable in the last 2-4 days as the coach visited Austin Peay and contract terms were wrapping. There were plenty of rumors floating about a hefty pay hike Jones supposedly proposed for Gipson, but it seemed implausible. Adding tens of thousands of dollars would have shattered the salary structure not only in the athletic department, but across campus, at a time when the university is laying off employees and making brutal budget decisions in the wake of an enrollment free-fall hardly unique to NSU – although it’s not just because of COVID, despite what the party line has been.

You can bank on it that Bostian and Kyle Bowlsby, who is the one-man search firm that identified both Bostian and Gipson for NSU last year, already have a list of potential successors and those are being vetted, at least.

There probably have been some conditional conversations with a handful of candidates in case the job opened. Don’t expect there to be much of a gap in hiring the new guy. It’s the way the business gets done nowadays, and that’s necessary, because every competitor is already building next year’s team.

Speaking of that – don’t be surprised if there’s a total roster rebuild. It’s as likely as the Academy Awards running way too long that Black, Enmanuel, Haney, Sharp and some other 2022-23 Demons will be at Austin Peay in the fall.

Fair, and feasible with the portal. The mindset that players choose a school primarily because of the institution and its community is secondary to recruits or transfers being totally invested in their coach – and available dollars from scholarships and financial aid and if any exists (there’s only a trickle at NSU), NIL money.

Bottom line: the landscape is very different than what St. Denis saw in 1714. It’s not much like what Demon fans enjoyed under McConathy when north Louisiana prep stars Chris Thompson, Clifton Lee and Jermaine Wallace, then Will Mosley, James Hulbin, Jalan West and Zeek Woodley wowed with their feats in the best of times for modern-day Demon basketball, featuring three trips and two wins in March Madness .

Perhaps Bostian, Bowlsby and Jones can pick another winner, and this time, he’ll stay a little longer — not 23 years, but maybe 3-4? It’s happened before at Northwestern.

After five years at his alma mater in Natchitoches, baseball coach Jim Wells got the Alabama job in 1994. Athletic director Tynes Hildbrand hired Dave Van Horn, who has become one of the game’s icons at Arkansas. When Van Horn left in December 1997, young NSU AD Greg Burke picked John Cohen, who is now Auburn’s AD after a long, highly successful coaching career at Mississippi State and Kentucky. Cohen left NSU in 2001, and Burke brought back Wells’ assistant Mitch Gaspard, who also became head coach at Alabama.

Demon fans are hoping for some of that magic.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Surging Bearkats take another shot at a fifth state title

(Photo by JOHN PENROD, Journal Sports)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

LAKE CHARLES — It’s something earned, not given, playing for a state championship.

When his first Bossier High School boys’ basketball team was 11-9, coach Justin Collins wasn’t visualizing this day. But the Bearkats have earned the opportunity, which comes this evening at 6 in Burton Coliseum when they square off against Carroll from Monroe for the LHSAA’s Division II Non-Select crown at Marsh Madness.

Today’s contest will be live-streamed on NFHSnetwork.org, a pay-per-view or subscription service, and can be heard for free on KSYR 92.1 FM “The Light” with Travis Shurling calling the game.

Bossier (23-10), seeded fourth, upset top-seeded Wossman on Tuesday, 48-42, in the semifinals. Later that evening, Carroll (25-11), seeded third, surprised local favorite and No. 2 seed Iowa 63-57.

The finalists collided in a tournament on Nov. 23 with Bossier posting a last-minute 59-56 win.

“We made a 3-pointer with about 10-12 seconds left, and they missed their last shot,” says Collins.

The Bearkats and Bulldogs have matched up in the last three seasons, and Bossier’s won the last two. Carroll was the district runner-up to its arch-rival, Wossman.

“They’re the same type of team as Wossman: tough, physical, and they play hard. Everybody on the court can shoot the 3. They’re going to guard you,” says Collins. “Just like Tuesday, we’ve got to bring our hard hats, and our shoulder pads. You’re going to have to fight.”

The Bearkats have displayed that trait in a big way this season, coming together to add to the program’s tradition.

Considering Bossier’s track record, Bearkats supporters have high expectations. If the team doesn’t make the state tournament, it’s a down year.

Bossier is in its seventh state final in a superb run beginning in 2009. The Bearkats are aiming for their fifth state crown, with championship trophies in 2011, 2016 and 2020 sitting alongside one from 1960. They’ve been state runner-ups four times in the last 14 years and reached the semis two more times, including last year.

“The tradition here is second to none. Our community support is second to none,” says Collins. “This year was kinda up in the air. You didn’t know. New players, a new coach, but the support has always been there, and it’s like our sixth man.”

Things seemed grim from the outside in midseason with that 11-9 record. Since, the Bearkats have been nearly perfect.

“We were like the stock market, up and down. We’d win 3-4 in a row, lose 2-3, win 3-4, lose 2-3. But we kept fighting, and we’ve won all but one since,” says Collins. “A tough schedule and tough, coachable kids, that has paid off.”

In a big way, and for all the right reasons, he says.

“We have a good group of kids. Nobody was expecting much from this group, but they’re hard-working, disciplined, and they do everything you ask on the court, off the court and in the classroom. They never say anything to the ref, they never argue with each other. They are coachable, and they want to be coached.”

They’re also “versatile,” says Collins. “We can adjust to the opponent. We can play any style, whatever we come up against.

“I’d say we’re a defensive team, but we do whatever we need to do. If we need to score to win, this group can do it, though. It’s hard to prepare for us.”

With a win this evening, it will be impossible to forget them.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Down to the wire for Tigers, Demons in conference title chases

SHARP POINT:  A prime contender for Southland Conference Player of the Year, point guard DeMarcus Sharp leads Northwestern State into its regular-season finale tonight at 8 in Prather Coliseum. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The next 48 hours are vital to conference championship hopes for the men’s basketball teams at Grambling and Northwestern State.

Grambling (20-8, 13-3) controls its destiny in the Southwestern Athletic Conference race. The Tigers got the break they needed and held up their end of the deal to move into a first-place tie with Alcorn with two games left. The Braves faltered at home last week, 75-71 to Prairie View.

Grambling is home to wrap up the regular season Thursday and Saturday, hosting fifth-place Alabama A&M (9-7 in the SWAC) before finishing with a visit from also-ran Alabama State.

Northwestern (20-10, 12-5) missed its chance to control its fate atop the Southland Conference, falling 83-75 Saturday night at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. But tonight, as the second-place Demons try to finish with a home win over Incarnate Word, NSU fans will be tracking A&M-CC’s visit to Texas A&M-Commerce, which shocked the Islanders last Thursday on the Gulf Coast. If Commerce can defend its homecourt tonight, and NSU prevails over UIW, the Islanders will have to share the crown with the Demons.


GRAMBLING:  Not since 1979-80 has Grambling recorded a 20-win season. That landmark was matched with Monday’s 66-54 win at Bethune-Cookman. Now the Tigers aim for a SWAC title, last claimed in 2017-18, but before that, not since 1988-89. As for eyes on the big prize, an NCAA Tournament berth with a SWAC Tournament win? This would be a first for Grambling. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons’ DeMarcus Sharp netted his fourth Southland Player of the Week award Monday after pouring in 40 points at Corpus Christi Saturday. It was the most scored by a Demon since 1977 (Billy Reynolds). Regardless of Wednesday’s outcomes in the regular-season finales, NSU will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s Southland Tournament at Lake Charles, and has a double bye into the second semifinal game next Tuesday night. The championship game tips at 4 o’clock next Wednesday afternoon. 

LOUISIANA TECH:  At home Thursday night, the Bulldogs have a real shot to snap their six-game losing streak. Tech (13-16, 6-12) hosts Florida International (13-16, 7-11). Saturday’s finale brings Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic (26-3, 16-2) to the Thomas Assembly Center. Tech took FAU to overtime last month on the road.


LOUISIANA TECH:  The Lady Techsters’ five-game win streak ended Saturday but just barely to nationally-ranked Middle Tennessee, who got the game-winner with four seconds left to prevail 61-59. Tech (17-11, 10-8) is looking like the team nobody wants to face in the CUSA Tournament March 8-11. Tech travels to FIU and FAU to wrap up the regular season. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE: The Lady Demons (11-16, 7-10) aren’t assured of a Southland Conference Tournament berth as they tip off at home this evening at 5:30 against one of the league’s hotter teams, UIW (14-13, 9-8) — which is on a five-game win streak including last Thursday’s meeting in San Antonio. Edge for NSU: the Lady Demons are 10-3 at home.  A loss doesn’t necessarily end the season for the Lady Demons, depending on results involving the three other teams shooting for the last three slots in the eight-team tournament field. 

GRAMBLING:  The Lady Tigers (9-18, 8-8) won their games at FAMU and Bethune-Cookman to bolster their bid to make the eight-team SWAC Tournament bracket. Good thing since they face two of the three best teams in the league, second-place Alabama Sate and third-place Alabama A&M, at home this week.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Mulkey’s state tournament experience was infinitely better than this

If you’re trying to follow the LHSAA’s 2023 Oschner Girls Marsh Madness event – formerly known as the Sweet 16 when my hair was dark – this week in Hammond, here’s wishing you patience and good luck.

The information flow was infinitely better when Kim Mulkey was playing for Hammond High, way before coaching the country’s No. 4 college women’s basketball team 40 miles west of her hometown.

In those days (1977-80), Mulkey was known as “The Hammond Honey” (that wouldn’t fly today, would it?), averaging 35 points in her trademark pigtails as she led her school to four straight state championships. Daily newspapers (remember those?) from every city in the state had writers courtside, some reporting on every game whether or not local teams were involved. There was no streaming video (suddenly we are caught in a Bayou State Back to the Future episode; details to follow), but plenty of radio broadcasts, and crowds included people from around the state, a considerable number who came just to watch, not necessarily to cheer their own teams.

Now nobody, not the Associated Press, not the state’s “paper of record” in Baton Rouge, and certainly not any of the Gannett products, covers every game, even with a cursory 4-5 paragraph story and box score. That’s not progress. Not ripping the people who cover sports, just wincing at those whose budget decisions have decimated so much of what the sports fans took for granted when Mulkey was in uniform, instead of in wardrobe.

Not to criticize the LHSAA. So many of the shortcomings are beyond its control, starting with the train wreck that ensues in the year of our Lord 2023 when the internet service collapses.

That happened at the end of last week across the internet platform at Southeastern Louisiana University, which includes the University Center arena where Marsh Madness is being staged. The public was alerted quickly that ticket sales would revert back to cash only – no cards. Admission for adults, $18, is cash.

Word is that the internet problems may be rooted in a malware attack that has forced a shutdown of SLU’s access to the worldwide web. There’s also some shaky service over at LSU, but not a total collapse there, yet.

Looking at the smaller picture, no internet at Southeastern meant at least erratic, if not non-existent, live streaming game coverage of state semifinal games Monday through the NFHSnetwork.com provider. You couldn’t see Oakdale winning its battle with Arcadia 47-46 on a buzzer-beating, banked-in 3-pointer. You couldn’t watch the final game in the incredible coaching career of Florien’s Dewain Strother, who finished with well over 1,200 wins, but not one more with his granddaughter on the team. It ended with a 46-41 loss to another perennial small-school girls’ powerhouse, Hathaway (whose five starters all played every second, all 32 minutes). Woulda been fun to watch.

Parkway fans, be warned. If you want to watch the Lady Panthers (seeded No. 2, but, c’mon) in their Thursday 4:45 semifinal against No. 3 Barbe, you very likely need to be in the gym in Hammond. We’ll have postgame coverage in the Journal, of course, and when the Lady Panthers play at 8 Saturday night for the state championship (and they will), you’ll get that story right here – but maybe not via NFHSnetwork.com, through no fault of its own.

Don’t expect to follow scores via Twitter. There’s no special provision of internet access for media at the University Center. Even using their own hot spots has proven fruitless more often than not so far. Give the LSHAA credit for finding a way to post halftime and final box scores on its @LHSAASports Twitter account.

I’m not being sentimental when I suggest the good ole days were better. I am being prudent giving Parkway people a heads up.

BTW, next week the boys’ version of Marsh Madness moves to Lake Charles, where presumably there will be internet. But the Southland Conference Tournament runs through Wednesday night at McNeese’s Legacy Center, so the support staff from the hometown university’s athletic department (absent entirely at Southeastern, oddly, which used to not be the case) won’t be involved in staging the event at aging Burton Coliseum.

This is progress, 40-plus years later? Whatever it is, the teams that win won’t mind, even if the experience won’t be what it once was.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Area college hoop scoop: Crucial weekend for Grambling’s SWAC championship hopes

MAKING HIS MOVE:  Grambling guard Virshon Cotton attacks the basket last Saturday against Southern in the NBA HBCU Classic during All-Star Game Weekend in Salt Lake City. (Photo courtesy Grambling State University Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The Grambling Tigers are one game back of Alcorn State with two weeks (four games) left in the Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s basketball race, and their hopes of winning the championship probably come down to this weekend’s Saturday-Monday games.

Grambling and Alcorn have had their only meeting, a 63-60 Alcorn win at Grambling on Jan. 30, in the league schedule. They’ll probably be the top two seeds in the March 8-11 SWAC Tournament. But for Grambling to share the SWAC regular-season championship, the Tigers need help and there’s not a lot of reason to expect it.

This weekend is the best hope. Alcorn (12-2 in league play) meets two middle-of-the-pack foes, Prairie View and Texas Southern (both 7-8), on its homecourt. The last week sends the Braves to two bottom-feeders, UAPB and Mississippi Valley.

Grambling cleared its toughest remaining hurdle last Saturday with its 69-64 overtime win over third-place Southern in the NBA’s HBCU Classic during All-Star Game weekend in Salt Lake City.

The Tigers visit also-rans Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman this weekend, then finish at home against Alabama A&M (at 8-7 in the SWAC, the only foe above .500 left for Grambling) and Alabama State next week. 


GRAMBLING:  Along with national TV exposure on TNT and ESPN2 for the NBA HBCU Classic, the Tigers (18-8, 11-3) collected a $100,000 donation from AT&T toward “academics, athletics and wellness services,” a press release said. Grambling and NBA legend Willis Reed served as honorary captain for both teams. The Tigers are up to No. 4 nationally in field goal percentage defense (38.5 percent allowed), topped only by Tennessee, Houston and Alabama. 

Next games: Saturday at FAMU, Monday night at Bethune-Cookman. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons (19-9, 11-4) were upset by New Orleans at home Saturday 68-65, ending a nine-game win streak, but can still claim at least a share of the Southland title by sweeping their three remaining games, notably Saturday night’s visit to first-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Two wins guarantees NSU the valuable double-bye into the semifinal round of the conference tournament. Impressive stat: point guard DeMarcus Sharp has drained 60 percent (28-47) on 3-pointers while averaging 18.2 points per game. Three teammates have tried at least twice as many treys. 

Next games:  Tonight at Incarnate Word, Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

LOUISIANA TECH:  The sudden departure of leading scorer Cobe Williams (18.8 per game) for “personal reasons” with (then) only six games left in the season raised eyebrows last week, and left the Bulldogs with only 11 players. It’s been a frustrating run for first-year head coach Talvin Hester, whose team needs to win three of its last four to avoid Tech’s first losing record in 13 seasons. Tough assignment: the Bulldogs (13-14, 6-10) meet three teams ahead of them in the CUSA standings, including league leader Florida Atlantic and fourth-place Middle Tennessee. If you were curious: this season’s been much rougher on last year’s Tech coach, Eric Konkol, whose first Tulsa team is 5-22. 

Next games: Thursday at Western Kentucky, Saturday at MTSU. 


LOUISIANA TECH: Riding a season-long four-game win streak, the Lady Techsters (16-10, 9-7) are in a fourth-place tie in the 10-team Conference USA standings.  Senior guard Keiunna Walker earned her second C-USA Player of the Week award, posting her second career double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds with five assists and four drawn charges in a double overtime 83-79 triumph at Charlotte. Walker sits at No. 9 in all-time scoring with 1,860 points. She has reached double figures in 24 of 26 games, including 20 straight. Her 17.6 PPG is No. 2 in C-USA. 

Next games: At home this week, playing uphill against the top two teams in CUSA, Thursday at 6 vs. Western Kentucky (14-11, 11-5), then Saturday at 1 against Middle Tennessee (22-4, 15-2). They’ll be on the road next week at two teams (FIU, Florida Atlantic) under .500 in league play to wrap up the regular season. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (11-14, 7-8) have two matchups with their closest Southland Conference competition, Incarnate Word (12-15, 7-8), the first tonight in San Antonio. NSU is 1-11 on the road, and UIW is 9-4 at home. With the other remaining game at second-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday, NSU could tumble into danger of not being one of the eight conference tournament qualifiers if it ends on a three-game skid. 

Next games: Tonight at UIW, Saturday at A&M-CC (16-10, 11-4). 

GRAMBLING: The Lady Tigers (7-18, 6-8) are tied for the last qualifying slot (eighth) for the SWAC Tournament. They’re still shooting poorly – 35 percent overall, 25 percent from distance. 

Next games: Grambling needs to win on the road Saturday at Florida A&M (5-21, 3-12), then Monday at Bethune-Cookman (10-15, 9-6). The regular season finale is next Wednesday at home against Alabama A&M (13-12, 11-4). 

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

How Bayou State basketball is bouncing toward March Madness

ICYMI, around Division I college basketball in the piney woods and bayous, as March Madness approaches, here is my version of Cliff’s Notes. Let’s call this Duggie Nuggets. On second thought, let’s don’t. How about Bayou Basketball Bites?

Just like most of our state’s basketball teams, we can do better.

Now that college baseball and softball is underway, with spring football right behind, it’s fair to say the generally tepid interest level in college hoops is fading fast in all but a few locales. But the Big Dance and its brackets are inevitably captivating, and you may find yourself with a rooting (or at least betting) interest.

At LSU, the extremes are mind-blowing. Nobody saw Kim Mulkey’s (Lady) Tigers with only one loss this season, but it’s likely they’ll sail into the SEC Tournament with just that. Nobody saw Matt McMahon’s men with no wins since the opener in conference competition, although anyone who expected close to a .500 SEC record was also holding out hope for a Saints playoff run.

Going anything less than unbeaten against a cupcake non-conference schedule would have been disappointing for Mulkey’s squad. They did not disappoint. They haven’t since, either. They’re not quite Final Four caliber, but that will change when Parkway’s Mikayla Williams and her signing class saddle up in Baton Rouge.

As for the LSU men, they’re a recruiting class away, in the new age of the transfer portal, from merely treading water in the SEC. McMahon is a good human and a solid coach, but can he recruit on a Power 5 level? That was the question when he was brought in to clean up the Will Wade cesspool. He’s done that much. Now, to upgrade the talent level and begin notching some Dale Brown-style upsets to make his program relevant.

From off the 318 radar, Tulane requires attention. It’s not just a football school (insert chortle). Be advised, the following may shock you. The men are 17-7, second behind Houston in the American Athletic Conference, and NCAA Tournament-bound. On the women’s side, Greenies coach Lisa Stockton just surpassed legendary Leon Barmore, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Lady Techsters’ coach, as the state’s winningest women’s college coach.

In her 29th Tulane campaign, Stockton has averaged 20 wins and at 16-11 this winter, is near that pace. She notched her 577th victory last Saturday, is trending toward her 21st postseason appearance and hoping for a 12th NCAA Tournament trip. None of that or her commendable career winning percentage scratches the surface of Barmore’s resume’, but it’s pretty salty in its own right. I’m not tuned into Tulane, but while the court-naming talk is still buzzing ….

Speaking of under the radar, UL-Lafayette’s men are 21-7, tied for third in the Sun Belt, headed to unscheduled action in March.

Wish it was a Bayou Blast Tournament. That would be fun and moderately interesting. Tulane, ULL, Grambling (18-8) and Northwestern State (19-9) all have postseason legs, but lack statewide appeal. Any of them could win their conference tournaments. All may have consolation opportunities if they don’t.

There’s the NIT, fit for regular-season champs that don’t cash in at conference tourneys (Grambling and NSU still might fit that description). Then trickle down to the pay-to-play alternatives, the College Basketball Invitational and (maybe) The Basketball Classic (it’s hard to tell online if it survived to 2023).

On the women’s side, there’s a slim chance of extra play for anyone other than LSU and Tulane. Best longshot: Louisiana Tech (16-10), which has battled injuries and inconsistencies, but Brooke Stoehr has an excellent conference tournament track record. Give her the squad that started the season and the Lady Techsters could threaten in the Conference USA Tournament.

That’s Bayou Bracketology, hopefully more useful than beads on Ash Wednesday.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Local college hoop scoop: LSUS men notch another RRAC crown

CHAMPS:  The LSUS Pilots, led by coach Kyle Blankenship (middle, with net draped around his neck) clinched at least a share of the Red River Athletic Conference title last Thursday and won it outright Saturday. (Photo courtesy LSUS Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The LSUS Pilots didn’t falter, but Texas A&M-Texarkana did in the last week of the Red River Athletic Conference men’s basketball race.

LSUS swept its two home games while A&M-Texarkana fell at Xavier and Louisiana College, giving the Pilots outright possession of the conference championship.

It’s the fourth under 11th-year coach Kyle Blankenship, who is an odds-on favorite to win his seventh RRAC Coach of the Year award, and fourth straight. He is now 211-76 at LSUS after the 22-6 regular season.

Last year’s Pilots didn’t win the outright conference crown, but were East Division champions. More importantly, they won the RRAC Tournament title for a third straight time and advanced into the NAIA Tournament – something the program has done each year since 2013.

The LSUS women also are 22-6 heading into the RRAC Tournament beginning Friday, but A&M-Texarkana was a perfect 20-0 in the conference. The Lady Pilots will be the No. 2 seed as quarterfinals unfold Friday at Rapides Coliseum in Alexandria. 


LSUS:  He did it again. Woodlawn product Jalen Brooks won the RRAC Player of the Week award for the eighth time in 16 weeks, averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds as the Pilots topped Texas College 91-75 last Thursday to clinch at least a share of the league title, then handled Jarvis Christian 88-78 on Saturday. Brooks was also included in the Bevo Francis Watch List Top 50, drawn from top players at every level except NCAA Division I. He’s had 18 double-doubles this season. 

Ahead: The Pilots rematch with Jarvis Christian Friday at 1:15 in Alexandria. A win moves LSUS into a 3 p.m. Saturday semifinal. The championship game, won last year by the Pilots, is Sunday at 2.

CENTENARY:  The Gents (17-8) dropped a pair on the road last week to end the regular season, and are the No. 3 seed in the six-team Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament beginning Friday in San Antonio. Centenary fell 68-55 Friday at St. Thomas, then 66-55 Sunday at Colorado College. 

Ahead:  Centenary meets sixth-seeded Southwestern (10-15) Friday at 7, hoping to go 3-0 on the series this season. The Gents won 58-49 on the road Dec. 11 and 71-52 at the Gold Dome on Jan. 27. Awaiting in the semifinal round is second-seeded Trinity, which split regular-season contests with Centenary, losing 69-65 in Shreveport in December but rolling 80-59 Jan. 20 in Texas. St. Thomas is the top seed. 

BOSSIER PARISH CC:  The Cavaliers (12-14, 4-12) dropped an 83-76 decision last Saturday to Trinity Valley CC despite having four players in double digits, led by 16 points apiece from Elijah Beard and Kendrick Delahoussaye. 

Ahead:  Bossier Parish is home Wednesday night at 7 against Navarro, hoping to turn around a 100-85 loss on the road last month. The Cavs go to Kilgore on Saturday. 


LSUS:  The Lady Pilots (22-6) dominated their games last week, blasting Texas College 65-39 Thursday and Jarvis Christian 70-51 Saturday afternoon on Senior Day. Appropriately, seniors Chelsey White and Tatym Barnes led the scoring with 11 on Saturday. 

Ahead:  LSUS is the No. 2 seed and will face the No. 7 seed, still to be determined in a three-way logjam for the last two tournament spots. That quarterfinal tips at 6:30 at Rapides Coliseum, with Saturday’s semifinal at 5:30 and the Sunday championship game starting at 4:30 after the men’s final. 

CENTENARY:  The Ladies finished 3-22 overall, 3-13 in the SCAC following losses on Friday at St. Thomas (68-57) and Sunday at Colorado College (81-47). With two-thirds of the team freshmen, the only direction to go is up for Centenary. One highlight – Alana Jones, who was named Centenary’s SCAC Character and Community Award winner earlier this month, finished the regular season second in the league with her 8.2 rebounding rate. 

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Local college hoop scoop: LSUS men playing for RRAC title at home

CAN’T STOP THIS:  Woodlawn product Jalen Brooks has been unstoppable all season for LSUS, which can clinch at least a share of a conference title with two home wins this week, beginning tonight. (Photo courtesy of LSUS Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The Red River Athletic Conference men’s basketball championship will be settled in Shreveport this week, beginning tonight.

The 19th-ranked LSUS Pilots (20-6, 14-4) play tonight and Saturday afternoon at The Dock, and will finish in no worse than a first-place tie by sweeping Texas College (7:30 tonight) and Jarvis Christian (4 p.m. Saturday) – two of the worst teams in the league.

However, LSUS didn’t cruise past either last month on the road. The Pilots edged Texas College, now last in the RRAC, 81-79 and lost 93-86 at eighth-place Jarvis Christian.

LSUS is tied for the league lead with Texas A&M-Texarkana, forging the deadlock Feb. 2 with a homecourt 66-63 victory. A&M-Texarkana has a tougher path to holding serve if LSUS sweeps this week, visiting third-place Xavier tonight and ending against a tough Louisiana Christian team in Pineville on Saturday.


LSUS:  The Pilots have the no-doubt RRAC Player of the Year, Woodlawn High product Jalen Brooks. The 6-5 senior leads the conference with averages of 23.9 points and 11.2 rebounds. Brooks is among three seniors to be honored before Saturday’s tipoff. Others are McNeese transfer Trey Johnson and Louisiana Tech transfer Stacey Thomas, who has started all but two of the Pilots’ games and is averaging 7.5 points.

Looking ahead:  After wrapping up the regular season tonight and Saturday at home, LSUS goes to Alexandria’s Rapides Parish Coliseum to defend its 2022 RRAC Tournament championship beginning Feb. 24. The NAIA postseason begins March 7.

BOSSIER PARISH COMMUNITY COLLEGE: The Cavaliers (12-13, 4-11) snapped a five-game skid Wednesday night at home, topping Paris JC 87-78 at Billy Montgomery Gym. BPCC drained 30 of 33 at the line as Elijah Beard scored 22 and Kendrick Delahoussaye had 21 (sinking all 13 of his free throws).

Next game: The Cavaliers have four games remaining, two at home next Wednesday and March 1. They visit Trinity Valley CC Saturday at 4. 

CENTENARY:  The Gentlemen (17-7, 10-5) have won six of their last nine despite falling at Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference leader St. Thomas Tuesday night, 68-55. The Celts (22-2, 15-0) have clinched the league crown and are ranked 13th in Division III. Centenary is a half-game back of Trinity in the final week of the regular season, and split the regular-season series with the Tigers. The Gents, assured of being in the six-team field for the SCAC Tournament, can top their Division III (since 2012) high-water mark of 18 victories with two more.

Next game: Centenary finishes the regular season Sunday at Colorado College, aiming for a season sweep after a 63-58 homecourt win last month. The SCAC Tournament is Feb. 24-26 in San Antonio. 


LSUS: The Lady Pilots (20-6, 14-4) have the same record as the LSUS men, but Texas A&M-Texarkana is unbeaten in the RRAC and has clinched the regular-season crown. The Lady Pilots have a two-game lead on third-place Louisiana Christian as they try to sweep season series with Texas College and Jarvis Christian. LSUS prevailed 66-58 on the road at TC and 71-65 in OT at Jarvis Christian last month. 

Next games:  LSUS is home this evening at 5:30 against Texas Christian, then at 2 Saturday afternoon at The Dock facing Jarvis Christian. On Senior Day, the Lady Pilots will honor five teammates: Tatum Barnes, Kiara Collins, Angel Reese, De’Azhia Smith and Chelsey White. 

CENTENARY: The Ladies (3-21, 3-12) beat Austin College Feb. 4, 62-58, but were bounced 68-57 Tuesday at St. Thomas. Centenary is hitting only 31 percent overall and just 20 percent on 3-pointers. Two-thirds of the Ladies’ roster is made up of freshmen. 

Last game: Sunday at Colorado College, which pounded Centenary 85-51 in the Gold Dome last month. The Ladies won’t make the SCAC Tournament. 

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Area college hoop scoop: Grambling, NSU men chasing championships

SHARP SHOOTING:  Senior point guard DeMarcus Sharp is on a tear, making him a leading Southland Conference Player of the Year candidate and leading the NSU Demons to the top of the league standings. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The stretch run of regular-season college basketball is underway, and two of the bigger surprises in mid-major men’s basketball are an hour’s drive from Shreveport-Bossier.

The men’s teams at Grambling and Northwestern State are very much in contention for their league crowns with a handful of games left before conference tournaments.

Grambling was picked sixth among 12 teams in the preseason Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches’ poll. NSU was also sixth in the 10-team Southland coaches’ predictions.

The Tigers (17-8 overall, 10-3 in the SWAC) stand one game behind league-leading Alcorn State with five games to go, two at home and one at a neutral site, Salt Lake City this Saturday against Southern in the NBA HBCU Classic.

Northwestern (18-8, 10-3) is tied for first with preseason favorite and 2022 NCAA Tournament entry Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and must visit the Islanders next Saturday. But the Demons have three of their final five games in Prather Coliseum, two this week.

No other area college Division I teams are in position to chase a regular-season title, but all seem destined to have spots in conference tournaments. Only the tournament champions will reach the NCAA Tournament as Conference USA, the Southland and the SWAC are all one-bid leagues, but other postseason options might be on the table for the Demons and Tigers, especially if they top the 20-win plateau.


LOUISIANA TECH:  Best win so far for the Bulldogs (13-12, 6-8, seventh in the 10-team CUSA standings)? Sweeping fourth-place Rice. But Tech just took league-leading Florida Atlantic into overtime on the road last Saturday and could be a threat in the CUSA Tournament next month. The Bulldogs also played second-place North Texas to a two-point game last month. Isaiah Crawford scored a career-best 25 for Tech at FAU as the Bulldogs shot 52 percent from the field.

Next game: North Texas, in Ruston, at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Mean Green escaped 67-65 in the first meeting. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE: DeMarcus Sharp is making his case for Southland Player of the Year. In NSU’s eight-game win streak, its longest since a nine-game run from Jan. 19-Feb. 19, 2013, Sharp has averaged a team-best 23.8 points per game while adding six assists, 5.4 rebounds, 2.4 steals and nearly a block per contest. A 6-foot-3 point guard, Sharp has a 4.36 assist-to-turnover ratio (48:11) in the run and is shooting 54.8 percent from the floor, including a 9-for-11 stretch from 3-point range.

Next game: Thursday at home, 8 p.m. against Southeastern Louisiana, who the Demons topped in OT last month in Hammond. 

GRAMBLING:  The Tigers have won four in a row behind their consistently stout defense. Monday night at home, Grambling shot 53 percent while holding Prairie View to 37 percent aim in a 68-64 victory. The G-Men have held opponents to 39 percent aim this season, and continue to rank among the top 10 in the nation in field goal percentage defense.

Next game:  Saturday in Salt Lake City against arch-rival Southern, who handled the G-Men last month in Baton Rouge.


NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (10-13, 6-7 for a three-way tie for fifth in the 10-team Southland) notched their most impressive win of the season at home last Saturday. It wasn’t just that NSU knocked off third-place Texas A&M-Commerce, but the Lady Demons recovered from a 67-47 smothering at Commerce less than 48 hours earlier. The turnaround came despite 36 percent shooting aim, but senior Candice Parramore poured in 26 points to set the pace for NSU. 

Next game: Thursday at home, 5:30 against second-place Southeastern Louisiana, which dominated NSU in Hammond last month. 

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Lady Techsters (14-10, 7-7, fifth in the 10-team CUSA race) put their best foot forward early in the league race by winning at fourth-place Rice. But down the stretch, they’ll be tested with four road games in the last six outings. 

Next game:  At North Texas, Thursday at 6:30. 

GRAMBLING:  The most impressive win for the Lady Tigers (7-17, 6-7 for eighth in the 12-team SWAC) is a 52-51 triumph a couple of weeks ago at second-place Alabama A&M. They have three home games in their last five contests. Last Saturday, the program retired the No. 14 jersey of the late Mary Currie, who set the program’s career scoring standard with 2,256 points from 1983-87. 

Next game: Saturday at home, 1 p.m. against Southern. 

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

One last run for ‘The Thundering Bull,’ Sidney Thornton

A BITTERSWEET REUNION:  Northwestern State football teammates of Sidney Thornton gathered last Friday night at Winnfield Funeral Home in Shreveport. (Photo courtesy of Jack Brittain Jr.)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

It’s Valentine’s Day, which is all about love, which makes this a perfect day to remember Sidney “The Thundering Bull” Thornton.

He was buried Saturday afternoon at Forest Park Cemetery West in his second hometown, Shreveport. He came north from Baton Rouge to play college football at Northwestern State, and changed lives the way he did it, and the way he was.

From 1973-76 in Natchitoches, and then for seven years in pro ball, he made impressions. On defenders, and people who met him. Eyes sparkle as memories flow.

Teammates gathered Friday evening, and more came Saturday to send off Sidney and support his beloved family. It was a tough end to a terrific beginning. Thornton arrived at Northwestern unheralded but awesomely gifted with ability and an Adonis physique.

“He was 5-foot-11, 245 pounds, could run a 4.5 40 in a day when that was really fast, and looked unlike anyone else I ever saw,” said teammate Jack “Britt” Brittain Jr. “He was chiseled. He was so fluid, so athletic, so powerful. We had several high NFL Draft picks at NSU in those days. Nobody took your breath away like Sidney Thornton. He looked the part and lived up to what he looked like, and everybody loved him – his coaches, teammates, people in town.”

He broke Charlie Tolar’s 19-year-old career rushing yardage record with 2,662 yards in just two years as a starter. In the Blue-Gray All-Star Classic, then played every Christmas Day in Montgomery, Ala., drawing many stars from major powers, Thornton was the game’s Offensive MVP.

He was drafted 48th overall, in the second round, by the Pittsburgh Steelers, to fit into a backfield featuring Pro Football Hall of Fame halfback Franco Harris, 1,000-yard rusher Rocky Bleier, and led by Terry Bradshaw.

Although he was Pittsburgh’s third-leading scorer (60 points) in 1979, when the Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl (second for Thornton), his top salary was just $100,000.

He played in 74 NFL games, starting 21, scoring 24 times and totaling 2,121 yards. The Steelers were at their peak, winning back-to-back Super Bowls and going 58-29 in his career.

But Thornton’s legacy isn’t measured in stats. He is remembered as a joyful, gentle, fun-loving teammate, an awesome sight to behold on campus or on the field, a mentor to younger players and to many Demons after he reached the NFL. To his wife Beverly and his children, he is missed as a doting father and grandfather, who battled fiercely as long as he could after suffering a massive stroke in September 2005 that greatly restricted his movement and speech, but not his heart, until he passed late last month at 68.

The young Thornton, recalled by old Demons:

Willie B. Mosley, cornerback: “I played with Sidney for three years. Whenever he smiled, he had that gold tooth and he lit up the room. Any time you had to hit this guy, you never hit him in the chest. You went for his ankles. He was a courageous guy who always knew where he was going and what he wanted. He was a friend, and I’m going to miss him.”

Sonny Louis, cornerback: “I remember him coming back (from the NFL) to practice and helping us out – a lot. He was a great guy. He helped Joe Delaney with his success – how to carry the ball and run the ball, things like that. One of his favorite sayings was, ‘You can’t make the team in the tub.’ He was a great guy who left a great legacy.”

Robert Brown, defensive end: “My freshman year, Sidney always said, ‘Brown, you got a lot to learn.’ I was determined to get to the quarterback. He would not let me. He said, ‘Brown, I’m going to teach you how to play defensive end,’ and he really did. He taught me how to take on a running back and drop ’em. He was a great leader, with a great smile, a very encouraging person.”

John Dilworth, defensive back: “One of my vivid memories was (in practice) when they ran a quick pitch, and I was known as a hitter – I went up and hit Sidney. Most people I hit, they fell back 3-4 feet. Sidney put me on the ground that day. I got drafted by the Dolphins, and they had a fullback named Norm Bulaich. I hit him on the goalline and knocked him out. Before that, I had told Sidney, ‘You’re going to be good up there.’ Sure enough, he was one of the toughest backs to play in the NFL.”

He was. But as pro ball’s pounding took its toll, Thornton developed substance abuse issues that dogged him for two decades, although he was a high school football coach at six schools, notably from 1985-90 in charge of rebuilding a downtrodden Coushatta High program. His Super Bowl rings were lost as collateral in a loan gone awry. Once he finally cleaned up his lifestyle, he had only a few years before the stroke put him in third-and-very long.

He did not shrink from the challenge, recalled Demon teammate Ken Meeks, who helped Thornton through rehab and his waning years.

Said Meeks: “If Sidney worked as hard at football as he did trying to recoup his life, he would have had one of those Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jackets. He had such a great heart.”

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

NFL REUNION:  Pittsburgh Steelers running back Sidney Thornton (38) posed with Kansas City’s Joe Delaney (37) , the Haughton native who broke Thornton’s career rushing record at Northwestern State.

Influential broadcaster Lanny James made widespread impact

LEGENDARY LANNY: Monroe-based TV and radio sportscaster
Lanny James did Lady Techster basketball play-by-play among his varied assignments, including Shreveport Steamer football and LSU sports. (Photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

A funeral service will be held Saturday for Lanny James, a Monroe-based television and radio broadcaster who did play-by-play work for the Shreveport Steamer football franchise, LSU, the New Orleans Saints, and Louisiana Tech’s Lady Techsters basketball powerhouse in the 1990s.

James, 82, died Feb. 2 in Houston. His funeral is in Monroe, at Mulhearn Funeral Home on Sterlington Road, at 2 p.m., with a visitation beginning an hour earlier.

James handled the Steamer broadcasts in 1975. His coverage of Grambling, ULM, Northwestern State and Tech athletics encompassed all 20 years (1969-89) he worked at KNOE-TV, the CBS affiliate in Monroe, and since then on local radio in
Monroe as a talk show host.

James developed the first Friday night high school football recap show in north Louisiana, Sportscope, which eventually extended outside football season to cover all sports. He hosted coach’s shows for Tech and ULM, and did LSU play-by-play on Tigervision in the 1980s, and handled some New Orleans Saints preseason contests.

He was an award-winning journalist in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association broadcasting division, and forged close friendships with area sports legends Leon Barmore, Maxie Lambright and Eddie Robinson, along with countless more athletes, coaches and administrators. The KNOE signal spanned all of north Louisiana until the early 1980s and the advent of cable TV systems.

“Lanny was a true sports legend in our part of the world,” former Louisiana Tech athletics director Jim Oakes told the Lincoln Parish Journal. “He played a vital role in covering the Lady Techsters, Tech football, and so many other championship teams. Channel 8 Sports was must-see-TV thanks to Lanny’s fantastic coverage of the area sports scene.”

Barmore, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as the Lady Techsters coach, had great respect for and a firm friendship with James.

“There is about a 15- to 20-year span where he covered us, did our TV show, and we were golfing buddies,” Barmore told the LPJ. “We were really good friends. He was really, really good with what he did.

“I thought there were four people who were an integral part with helping the Lady Techsters get on the national scene in (Tech president) Dr. F. Jay Taylor, (Techster co-head coach) Sonja Hogg, (iconic Ruston sportswriter) Buddy Davis and Lanny James.

“Lanny was really good for the Lady Techsters and he was really good for me. I enjoyed him … he really got us off the ground along with Buddy Davis.”

Barmore noted that the Techsters and Tennessee’s Lady Volunteers were the first two women’s programs to have their own coach’s TV show, a key in building the Techsters’ national brand.

James served in the National Guard. His family suggested memorial gifts to the Wounded Warrior Project or the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com 

Former Demon Rubin exiting NFL on its biggest stage

CHAMPIONSHIP JOY:  Kansas City strength and conditioning coach Barry Rubin (center) with his wife, Nicole (at left) and daughter Daley after the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory over San Francisco three years ago. (Courtesy photo)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Barry Rubin’s been there before. He’s never going to be there again. So the former Northwestern State fullback and tight end is soaking in every moment of Super Bowl LVII, as the retiring strength and conditioning coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.

After 26 seasons in the NFL, and 15 before that coaching at NSU, LSU and ULM, the 65-year-old and his wife Nicole will head south for good, to settle into what has been a vacation home in Vero Beach, Fla., and start a less consuming lifestyle.

A career that has earned him enshrinement in the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame, along with NSU’s N-Club Hall of Fame, officially ends Sunday night. There’s been success at every stop, particularly since he reached the NFL as the Green Bay Packers’ first assistant strength coach in 1995.

“This is it, so it’s great to go out on this stage. I hope we can win it, but it does feel great to be here,” said the Monroe native, a Neville High product who is coaching in his third Super Bowl.

“It is really hard to get here. My first year in Green Bay, we went to the NFC Championship and got beat. The next year, we won. Then we went again, and lost,” he said. “It took me over 20 years to get back. It doesn’t happen regularly.”

But it is the second Super Bowl in three years for the Chiefs, led by veteran coach Andy Reid, who met Rubin as an assistant in Green Bay, and as a head coach, brought him to Philadelphia and then along for the last 10 years in Kansas City.

Rubin has found himself in football paradise.

“Coach Reid is top-notch,” he said. “We have great coaches, a phenomenal quarterback, and real good, hard-nosed people who want to win and work hard.”

Then there’s the fabled Chiefs’ Kingdom – a fan base in middle America that is as passionate as it gets.

“You feel like you’re at a college game. And it’s the loudest stadium in the world. The fans love the Chiefs,” said Rubin.  “This franchise is so deeply ingrained in NFL history with the Hunt family, all the Hall of Fame players, all the success. It’s so exciting playing in Arrowhead Stadium. I will miss that. At least the last game I coached in there, we won. It’s been a blessing to be here.”

Rubin has crossed paths with many greats of the game, from the Hunt family to coaches and Pro Football Hall of Fame players. Along the way, he’s also gotten to know one of country music’s most avid fans, superstar singer Kenny Chesney. A conversation between the pals from a few years ago pops up occasionally on Chesney’s No Shoes Radio on SiriusXM channel 57.

“I’ve become good friends with him,” said Rubin. “When I was with the Eagles, he was doing a concert and they called to ask if he could come over and work out.

“He came in, and it was just he and I. We hit it off. We’re both from the South. He loves working out. That is a tough little dude. He gets after it. He eats perfect. He does it right,” Rubin said. “We’ve stayed in touch, and he’s been to Arrowhead several times. He’s so awesome, a lot of fun, and I think the world of him.”

Rubin’s career path unfolded at NSU. Son of a Monroe jeweler, he encountered two of A.L. Williams’ assistants with the Demons, Al Miller and Kent Johnston, who both preceded Rubin into the NFL strength and conditioning ranks, and are also in the profession’s hall of fame along with their protégé.

Johnston was the strength coach in Green Bay when he got the green light to hire an assistant. He called Rubin. Their paths had crossed again in the SEC, when Rubin was running things at LSU and Johnston was at Alabama.

“We worked together in Green Bay for four years, and those were some of the most fun years I’ve ever had. What a learning experience with him,” said Rubin. “Coach Miller taught me so much. I learned so much and still do. We talk every other week, probably.”

His Demon days are treasured, not only for the memories, but for deep relationships with Williams, then-assistant Joe Raymond Peace, and his teammates.

“I loved it at Northwestern. Especially my senior year, we had such a good football team. Bobby Hebert, Joe Delaney, Mark Duper, Gary Reasons, Warren Griffith, our center, a ton of top-notch players. I loved Coach Williams, and Joe Peace, my coach, what a great coach who had a big influence on my life,” he said.

It was beyond comprehension that Rubin would join two of his colleagues on NSU’s offensive front, Petey Perot and Bill Johnson, by achieving long careers in the NFL – Perot for seven years as a standout guard, then a lengthy college coaching career, nearly all of it at Louisiana Tech, where he developed Willie Roaf into an eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer, and Johnson for nearly 20 years as a highly-respected defensive line coach.

“I got to play with Petey, one of my best friends, and with Bill, another of my very best friends,” he said. “And guys like Butch Ballard, J.P. Dunbar, Gary Morgan … lots of great people. Now I’m going to come back to Northwestern every season, to see them and watch the Demons play. I’m proud to have come from Northwestern, that’s for sure.”

Rubin is among 12 NSU alums who have taken part in at least one Super Bowl. The first, fullback Sidney Thornton and Hall of Fame tight end Jackie Smith, collided in Super Bowl XIII (Steelers 35, Cowboys 31).

When he walks off the field Sunday night, Rubin doesn’t know what’s next, except it won’t be anything as intense as what he’s done since he put up his own shoulder pads and looped a whistle around his neck.

“I don’t want to retire from life. I want to do a little something. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.”

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

ON THE BOARD: Barry Rubin (at left) congratulates Chiefs’ running back Jerick McKinnon (1) after a touchdown during a Monday Night Football NFL game. (Submitted photo)

Former NCHS coach Wilkerson joins Calvary football staff

FRESH START:  Former Natchitoches Central head football coach James Wilkerson (center, maroon shirt) has landed a job on Rodney Guin’s Calvary Baptist staff. (Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Former Natchitoches Central head football coach James Wilkerson has accepted a spot on Rodney Guin’s Calvary Baptist Academy coaching staff.

Wilkerson, well-regarded for years as an offensive assistant at Byrd High before spending the last three seasons in charge at NCHS, will coach the Cavaliers’ offensive line.

Guin is 55-17 in six years at Calvary, and 181-74 overall as a head coach (previously at Haughton), third all-time in Caddo-Bossier. He guided Calvary to a state title in 2020, and took the Cavaliers to the semifinals in 2021 and 2019 after making it to the quarterfinals the three previous years (2016-18). They were beaten in the state quarterfinals in 2022.

Wilkerson worked for another successful head coach, Mike Suggs, at Byrd, coaching running backs. Wilkerson took over a long-struggling NCHS program just weeks before the COVID pandemic struck in 2020, but once he had a full year including spring practice and an offseason program, the Chiefs had a massively successful 2021 campaign.

They broke into the LSWA state Class 5A top 10 rankings for the first time this century while soaring to a 7-0 start before a season-ending injury to quarterback Brian Young.

Wilkerson coached a pair of 1,000-yard running backs, Caylin Demars and Jeremiah Miles, in his last two years with the Chiefs. His combined 10-10 regular-season record in those seasons was the best two-year stretch by NCHS this century. After a 2022 season greatly hampered by another injury that sidelined Young for the first five games and limited him for another two, Wilkerson and NCHS parted ways before Christmas. Last month, Many’s Jess Curtis was tabbed the Chiefs’ new coach.

Wilkerson has 20 years of high school coaching experience, including a couple of seasons as head coach at St. Mary’s in Natchitoches not long after he graduated from Northwestern State.

“His reputation as a coach, and more importantly as a man of God, are exciting additions to 9333 Linwood Ave.,” said a Facebook announcement by the school through its Calvary Touch Down Club page, with the post titled “How can (our) incredible staff get any better?? Boom! LIKE THIS!!!!!!” 

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Area College Hoop Scoop: Tech teams seek season sweeps tonight

DAWG DEFENSE:  Kaleb Stewart (4) and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs host Rice tonight at 6 in Ruston.  (Photo by DARRELL JAMES, Louisiana Tech Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Louisiana Tech’s basketball teams are hoping to ride the Groundhog Day spirit tonight.

Both the men’s and women’s teams are looking for a season sweep of Rice squads which have better records and are above Tech in the Conference USA standings with nine games to go in the 20-game league season.

They have open dates Saturday. Both teams are 5-6 in CUSA play.


LOUISIANA TECH: The Bulldogs (12-10, 5-6) shot 59 percent in the second half last Saturday to separate from UTSA and post a 66-55 victory in the Alamo City. Cobe Williams didn’t score at least 20 for the first time in five outings, but he did notch 18, giving him a league-best 12 straight games with at least 16 points. That’s the third-longest string of 16 or more by a Bulldog in 20 years. 

Next game: Tonight at home, tip at 6 against Rice (15-6, 6-4). The Bulldogs rode home happy from Houston last month after an 88-82 overtime win on Jan. 5. Rice leads CUSA with a 79.3 scoring average, 29th nationally. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons (14-8, 6-3 Southland) have won four straight and six of their last seven to sit one win back of Southeastern Louisiana as the second half of league play begins. Senior point guard DeMarcus Sharp posted his first points/assists double-double in Saturday’s romp over Lamar with 23 points and 10 assists. He has three points/rebounds double-doubles this season. His running mate from Missouri State, senior shooting guard Ja’Monta Black, averaged 30 points in the first three wins in NSU’s current streak, but managed only one late 3-pointer against Lamar, which understandably defended him aggressively.

Next game: It’s rinse and repeat in the Southland schedule. Northwestern beat Houston Christian and Lamar at home last week. Now they go for season sweeps, tonight at HCU and Saturday night at Lamar.

GRAMBLING: A bad night at the free throw line (7 of 15) cost the G-Men (13-8, 6-3) Monday night in a showdown for second place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Alcorn outscored GSU 12-3 in the last six minutes to storm out of the Frederick C. Hobdy Assembly Center with a statement win. It snapped the Tigers’ seven-game homecourt win streak.

Next game:  It’s the Alabama swing for Grambling, Saturday at Alabama A&M and Monday at Alabama State. Both are 4-5 in the SWAC.


NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (9-10, 5-4) rode the hot hand of former Grambling guard Candice Parramore to homecourt wins last week over Houston Christian and Lamar, two teams joining NSU in the middle of the conference standings. Parramore averaged 20 points in those games and has an 18-point average with 50 percent 3-point aim over the last five games after coming back from an ankle injury that sidelined her for three outings. NSU lost its second-leading scorer overall when Australian Shelby Rayner (8.9 ppg, 38 percent on 3s) departed the squad last week, so Parramore’s return was extra beneficial.

Next game: Thursday at HCU, Saturday at Lamar.

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Lady Techsters (12-10, 5-6) stumbled at home Saturday, getting upset 66-63 by UTSA. Coach Brooke Stoehr is hoping it’s a wake-up call. Tech is 9-0 holding teams to 60 points or less, and 8-0 when it wins the rebounding battle. The Techsters lead CUSA with a 34.7 percent 3-point rate and are second in shooting from the floor (44.8 percent) and the line (77.7), also ranking No. 2 in scoring defense (60.6 ppg allowed).

Next game: Thursday at Rice. 

GRAMBLING: A miserable shooting performance, 27 percent, sunk the Lady Tigers (5-15, 4-5) at home Monday night in a 58-52 loss to Alcorn State. Scoring hasn’t come easily for Grambling, which has only Colbi Maples averaging in double-digits overall (13.5). But after a very challenging non-conference slate, Maples (14.1) is joined by Phyllis Allen (11.7) and Leah Morrow (10.6) topping Grambling in SWAC scoring.

Next game: Saturday at Alabama A&M, then Monday at Alabama State.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Local College Hoop Scoop: Brooks, Thomas keep stacking up awards for LSUS, Centenary

NO DOUBTING THOMAS:  Centenary’s Seth Thomas collected another conference player of the week award Monday after helping the Gentlemen to a pair of wins last week. (Photo courtesy Centenary Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

Centenary’s Seth Thomas and Jalen Brooks of LSUS collected more accolades Monday, which was nothing new for the senior stars.

For Thomas, it was the third time he’s won the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Basketball Player of the Week award.

For Brooks, it was the second straight week, and the seventh time in 13 weeks of the award, for him to be named Red River Athletic Conference Player of the Week.

Thomas averaged 18 points per game as the Gents rolled to a pair of convincing double-digit conference victories last week. He hit 56 percent of his shots and snatched six rebounds per game.

Brooks, the Woodlawn product, piled up more staggering statistics. He averaged 32.5 points and 13.5 rebounds while helping the Pilots to a pair of hard-fought league wins at Louisiana Christian (87-85 in overtime) and at home over Xavier (77-70 on Saturday, with Brooks pouring in 38 points). 


LSUS:  The Pilots (17-5, 11-3) scored the final eight points of the game last Saturday at the Dock to pull out a seven-point win over a good Xavier squad. Two nights earlier, LSUS worked OT to prevail by two over Louisiana Christian in Pineville. Brooks stands third nationally in rebounding (11.4 average) and fourth in scoring (24.1 points per game). 

Next game:  A Thursday battle for the conference lead tips off at the Dock at 7:30 as Texas A&M-Texarkana visits. 

CENTENARY: The Gentlemen (14-6, 8-4) won twice last weekend in their final two-game homestand, smoking Southwestern 71-52 Friday night and topping Texas Lutheran 72-51 Sunday afternoon on Senior Day. Centenary has only one home game remaining among its last five regular-season outings. 

Next game:  The Gents go to Dallas on Friday and ride down to Austin College the next day. 

BOSSIER PARISH CC:  The Cavaliers (11-10, 3-8) bowed twice, 63-60 at home to Trinity Valley last Wednesday and 100-86 at Navarro on Saturday. 

Next game: Wednesday night at home, 7 o’clock against Kilgore. 


LSUS:  The Lady Pilots (18-5, 12-3) stumbled backwards last Thursday night, getting thrashed 68-41 at Louisiana Christian (10-9, 7-5), a team LSUS defeated 67-60 earlier at the Dock. LSUS got back on track at home. After losing by 27, two days later the Lady Pilots won by 25, 70-45, over visiting Xavier. 

Next game: Thursday night at home, 5:30 against Texas A&M-Texarkana. 

CENTENARY: The Ladies nabbed their second win of the season last Friday, surprising Southwestern 59-50. The losers dipped to 6-5 in the league, so it was a quality win for Centenary (2-18, 2-9), which hit 80 percent from the free throw line (29-36). Freshman guard Amiyah Barrow scored 20 points, going 10-14 on free throws, and Centenary had just eight turnovers. But the Ladies couldn’t handle Texas Lutheran on Sunday, falling 75-50.

Next games: Friday at Dallas, Saturday at Austin College.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Ossai’s blunder was costly, but Pratt’s blast was worse

Some things just hit the wrong way.

Can Cincinnati fans forgive second-year defender Joseph Ossai for that no-doubt late hit on Patrick Mahomes, setting up an infinitely more makeable game-winning field goal for Kansas City Sunday night to decide the AFC Championship?

That will come faster than the Bengals should forgive another linebacker, Germaine Pratt, for shouting at Ossai minutes later as the team filed into the dressing room. “Why the hell (actually, he used another word) you touch the QB?!!!”

I’ll bet Ossai, 22, lasts a lot longer with the Bengals and in the NFL than Pratt, who is now the poster boy for Teammate You Don’t Want.

A day later, Pratt tried to explain himself. He failed, again.

“I was emotional. I was in the moment. I was wrong. As a man, you can look in the mirror and say I wasn’t a great teammate at that moment.”

All true. All lacking accountability – not to mention, an apology. Not even a hint of one. Then, this gem ….

“That don’t define me as a man.”

And this: “The brotherhood we built around here is unmatched.”

What color is the sky in Pratt’s universe? Football people like to say it’s the ultimate team game. Pratt’s outburst, however “in the moment,” defines him as somebody unreliable, certainly not a player I’d want to count on.

Some things just hit the right way.

Exhibit A Monday: B.J. Hill, the Teammate You Hope To Be. Hill stood next to a graceful but still misty-eyed Ossai during postgame interviews, like an older brother, “deflecting” some questions that were harsh. Normally that would get a thumbs down from yours truly, but in this moment, after Ossai sat sobbing on the Bengals bench as the game ended, as he patiently fielded questions about his mistake afterwards — and admitted his gaffe — I’m sure there were moments when queries danced near the line of unintentional cruelty. Nobody complained about what Hill said or did.

Best thing I heard Monday: Pratt is in the final year of his contract. Easiest prediction: he’ll find a job in the NFL, but it won’t be back in Cincinnati. With what we’ve seen from Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who has transformed a burning dumpster fire of a franchise, Pratt’s mistake will be the last thing he does on that team.

For his part, Ossai was trying to deal with the reality that his blunder – full-speed, but foolish – all but ended Cincinnati’s shot to return to the Super Bowl. He was comforted by the rest of his teammates in the locker room Sunday night.

“It’s given me peace right now, for sure.” 

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Hansel Enmanuel has arrived, with his best days of basketball ahead

UNIQUELY GIFTED:  Northwestern freshman basketball player Hansel Enmanuel has reached levels of accomplishment and recognition few could have foreseen, even while playing sparingly this season. (Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

It’s a process that requires patience.

That’s something that Northwestern State basketball coach Corey Gipson and the most famous player in school history, Hansel Enmanuel, understand, even if most others may not.

It’s a process for most freshmen to earn playing time in college sports. Enmanuel is unique, among freshmen or current college basketball players, because he has only one arm. At age 6 back home in the Dominican Republic, he lost his left arm in an accident.

Four other one-armed men have played college basketball previously, notably Kevin Laue, a 6-11 center at Manhattan College from 2009-12. Enmanuel, largely due to social media, is by far the best known.

Enmanuel is undeniably famous, and was before he arrived in Natchitoches late last summer. By then, he had been featured in a Gatorade commercial that aired during the 2022 NBA Finals. Now he’s added endorsement deals with T-Mobile and adidas, has approximately 4.3 million social media followers, and has a Name, Image and Likeness valuation estimate of $1.5 million, according to On3.com analysis, which also places the NSU freshman eighth on a list of the most prized amateur American athletes, topped by Bronny James (son of NBA great LeBron) and Arch Manning.

His fame has rapidly paid great dividends for NSU. After Enmanuel’s first scoring began with a thunderous dunk at home Dec. 5 late in a blowout win over ULM, the resulting media coverage produced an estimated $89 million in “earned media” – the estimate of what it would cost to obtain the same exposure if paying for it – as his story was featured on many national and international media platforms, including a minute-long segment on ABC’s Good Morning America.

The latest could come as soon as this weekend, possibly Sunday, during CBS Sports college basketball coverage. A CBS crew visited Natchitoches earlier this month for interviews. That’s never happened.

With his grandmother seeing his potential, Enmanuel moved to Florida to finish high school at Life Christian Academy, a private school in Kissimmee. His talents earned opportunities to play on the summer AAU circuit, where he hit the national stage.

That’s the background. What’s ahead? Patience is required, he and Gipson agree.

Last Saturday at UNO, Enmanuel achieved another milestone, draining his first collegiate 3-pointer in the waning moments of another blowout win by the Demons (who have a Saturday afternoon contest in Prather Coliseum against Lamar). The 3-pointer didn’t gain a fraction of the national media traction that his spectacular slam did, but it energized the 1,093 at Lakefront Arena, including a couple waving the Dominican Republic flag in tribute, and it did move the internet needle.

Reality check: it was Enmanuel’s first game action since Dec. 18, and only his seventh appearance in 20 games this season. Only two other players, both freshmen, on NSU’s 14-man roster have played more infrequently.

Enmanuel has been in action for only 30 minutes, scoring 10 points and collecting five rebounds, making half of his eight shots, but just one of eight free throws. He’s had a steal, and an assist, and no turnovers. A concussion sidelined him for three conference games; he figures to get an uptick in playing time going forward, as circumstances arise to maximize his chances to be effective.

“Any freshman is going to have a tough time at the beginning, because you have to work on your fundamentals and pay attention to detail,” said NSU co-captain Ja’Monta Black. “His growth from Day One to now is great. He’s gotten better at every aspect of the game. He’s going to play hard every time, every practice, every minute.”

“We felt he was somebody who could grow in our program, and those things were addressed on the front end (of recruitment),” said Gipson.  In other words: be patient.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been coachable,” Enmanuel said in an interview just after Christmas. “I’m getting better at my game, making the right decisions. I’ve improved in every area. I’m going to do what (coach) wants me to do.

“Right now, being coachable is the most important thing. Practicing hard. I have to keep working. I don’t know the future. I just know right now.”

Natchitoches is the smallest place he’s lived in his 19 years.

“People are good here. I’ve lived in Florida, New York and the DR. I’m here for a reason, and a small town is OK for me,” he said.

He loves fried food and fast food, especially burgers. He longs for dishes like what his grandmother fixed back home. But he’s very happy at NSU in his tight-knit basketball family.

Along with total immersion in basketball, they’ll play video games (Enmanuel’s favorite is “Call of Duty”), go out to eat, and do things typical college kids enjoy. NSU’s social media monster is especially fond of Tik-Tok because of his passion for music, starting with rap, but ranging across genres. Listening helps him improve speaking English, something that he knows is necessary.

Enmanuel hasn’t considered an academic major yet, not until he gets better command of the language here. He listens carefully and speaks cautiously, but capably, to those outside his small circle.

Coaches, teammates and staff members uniformly enjoy his personality and marvel at the 6-foot-6 forward’s athletic skill set and work ethic.

As for whatever the actual financial windfall is, it’s going to support his family, he said – although he gifted teammates with new adidas shoes in the holidays. He is planning on monetizing his basketball career professionally, ideally in the NBA but perhaps in smaller leagues. His father, Hansel Salvador, has been a pro star back home and has played overseas.

Enmanuel constantly cites his faith in God as directing and inspiring him, while he serves as an inspiration for untold millions around the world. He’s the rare athlete who may do nothing other than warm up at pregame and at halftime, but even that makes the price of admission worthwhile.

“Hansel Enmanuel’s greatest talent, the rest of his life, will be his mental fortitude and resiliency. That affords the opportunity for him to be a great example,” said Gipson.

He already has been. Black shared a treasured snapshot of his young teammate, early in the season after a win in a tournament at Central Arkansas.

“I don’t think he played in either one of those games, but after we won, he was the happiest guy in the locker room. That just tells you about him. He’s not worried about his playing time. He’s just trying to get better every day. Any other person would be frustrated not getting in the game, but he got in that locker room and was dancing harder than everybody else, so that’s a moment I’ll always remember.”

Fans everywhere eagerly anticipate seeing him in action. There’s been no negativity from the crowds, said Black.

“I don’t believe so. We wouldn’t tolerate that. Pretty much everybody in the stands cheers for him to get in the game. They want to see him play and I understand that.”

“It’s impossible not to cheer for Hansel Enmanuel,” said former CNN sports anchor Paul Craine. “Such an incredible, inspirational story.”

No matter whether or not he hits the court in a game, that’s true. At this point of his college career, just making it this far is simply remarkable.

What’s next? Patience could pay off. In any case, it’s worthy of admiration, the global community seems to agree. 

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com

Area College Hoop Scoop: Direction in conference races at stake

HOT HAND: Ja’Monta Black had a sensational week for Northwestern State, earning Southland Conference honors after the Demons scored a pair of road wins. (File photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

This week’s outcomes will be tonesetters for basketball teams at Grambling, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State – and the good news is that nearly all of the action comes at home.

The men’s teams from Grambling and Northwestern State are just one game off the lead in their leagues and both play twice on their homecourts. Grambling has the greatest opportunity. At 5-2 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the Tigers host Jackson State, also 5-2, in a battle of third-place teams Saturday afternoon. Monday night, SWAC co-leader Alcorn State (6-1 in the conference) visits the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center.

On the women’s side, it’s Louisiana Tech with the greatest upward mobility, hosting Conference USA bottom-feeders UAB (Thursday) and UTSA (Saturday) having already beaten both on the road, although in a pair of close games. The sixth-place Techsters, hampered over the past month by an injury to junior standout Anna Larr Roberson, aren’t near the top of CUSA but can get over .500 in the league race with a sweep. 


NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons (12-8, 4-3 Southland) had lost six of their last eight heading on the road last week to Southeastern Louisiana (now the league co-leader at 5-2) and UNO, but Missouri State transfers and team captains Ja’Monta Black and DeMarcus Sharp led NSU to a road sweep. Black won his first Southland Player of the Week award by averaging 29.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals while sinking 14 of 29 3-pointers. Sharp, challenged by new coach (and former Missouri State assistant) Corey Gipson to be more aggressive, averaged 27 points and 6.5 assists at point guard. 

Next games: Thursday NSU hosts Houston Christian (4-3 in league play) at 8, then welcomes Lamar (2-5 in the SLC) Saturday afternoon. The Demons are in a four-way tie for third place in the 10-team league, which hits the middle of the 18-game season with Saturday’s games. 

GRAMBLING:  The Tigers (12-7, 5-2 SWAC) were impressive in an important road win Monday at UAPB, topping the Golden Lions (now 5-3 in the league) by shooting 54 percent overall, 56 percent on 3-pointers and making 20-of-22 free throws. It’s impressive when you’re in the top 10 of a list that starts with Tennessee, Houston and Alabama; Grambling leads the SWAC and is eighth in the NCAA in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to an average of 38.3 percent aim. They were right on that number at UAPB as Jourdan Smith rose up for 24 points. 

Next games:  The G-Men are home Saturday at 3 against Jackson State, then host Alcorn Monday at 7:30 during “Greek Weekend” on campus. There are 11 SWAC games left. 

LOUISIANA TECH:  The Bulldogs (11-9, 4-5 in Conference USA) had a remarkable home win last Thursday over Western Kentucky, overcoming a 12-point second half deficit to get to overtime. Once there, Tech didn’t give up a point in the extra five minutes of an 85-74 triumph. But Saturday, Middle Tennessee outshot the Bulldogs 52-39 percent in a 17-point road win. Cobe Williams continues to rank high in CUSA stats:  fourth in scoring (18.7), second in steals (2.2) and sixth in assists (4.1).

Next game:  Tech goes to UAB Thursday and UTSA on Saturday. They’re tied with UAB in the standings while the Roadrunners are 1-9.


LOUISIANA TECH: The Lady Techsters (11-8, 4-5 CUSA) are poised to snap last week’s two-game skid (66-55 at Western Kentucky, 68-50 at Middle Tennessee). Roberson, who started stacking double-double games in the second half of last year, returned to the starting five at Middle for the first time since Dec. 18. Saturday’s loss was a close battle except for the start (a 10-0 MTSU burst) and finish (16-2 Middle run).

Next games: Home twice, Thursday night at 6 facing UAB and Saturday afternoon at 1 against UTSA. Both visitors are 2-7 in CUSA including losses at home to the Techsters. There are 11 games to go in conference play.

GRAMBLING:  The Lady TIgers (5-13, 4-3) fell 64-57 Monday night at UAPB despite a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) by Phylicia Allen.

Next games: Grambling is home Saturday at 12:30 against league-leading Jackson State, then meets Alcorn Monday at 5:30 at the Hobdy Center.

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (7-10, 3-4) suffered a bad loss Saturday at UNO, falling to a team with only three wins playing without its head coach, who had a death in the family. NSU has dropped two straight on the heels of a three-game win streak, but is 6-2 at home, a good omen this week. In her final collegiate season (the first three at Grambling, where she scored 501 points), Candice Parramore passed the 1,000-point career mark on a 3-pointer. It’s her second season at NSU.

Next games:  Home Thursday at 5:30 against Houston Christian (4-3 in the SLC) and Saturday at 1 when Lamar (2-5) visits.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com