As Hoopsfest approaches its 25th year of high school basketball on the Gulf Coast, it’s starting to become a little bit of a family affair.
Of the 14 teams on the schedule, half of them have a head coach that played in the annual event when they were in high school. Out of those seven Hoopsfest alum three of them are disciples of one of the masterminds behind the mega-showcase, Jay Ladner.
“When I was in high school Isaiah Canaan was one. Jeremiah Dunnings from Biloxi. The Roscoe’s from Moss Point, they were good ones. Pedro Maciel, a Stanislaus guy. He was a top guy on the Coast back then. Daniel Grieves. All those big names, so it’s always been a fun event with great players in it.”
From legends past to the coaches of today, Hoopsfest has gone second-generation for the Rock-A-Chaw blood. “I grew up looking up to Coach Willis over here and Coach Dunklin so it’s kind of like a family, a St. Stanislaus brotherhood. We all get to compete against each other so it’s just a good, fun experience.”
Hancock Head Coach Derrick Willis said, “I mean kind of like Coach Cobb said, the familiarity of the facility and just knowing everybody who’s in it is just kind of like life coming full circle and the opportunity to keep that Ladner tradition going of having one of his former players in this event. It’s a lot of fun.”
Brandon Cobb is the first-year head man at Long Beach, having graduated in 2009. Before him was class of 2005 graduate Derrick Willis, who is also in his first season over at Hancock. Then there’s SSC’s Aaron Dunklin, a graduate from the class of 2000, now in his third year coaching his alma mater. “As you look along the landscape of Mississippi basketball, I mean we have a lot of guys in a lot of different spots. That speaks to the testament of, of course, the coaches hard work, but then again Coach Ladner as well and the things that he instilled in us.”
Between Ladner and Gulfport Athletic Director Bryan Caldwell, the duo created a lasting monument of high school basketball on the Coast that has the Stanislaus trio still feeling like players at heart. “It’s a ton of fun. But like I try to tell my guys I’m not here to steal the show, They know they’ve got to play, they’ve got to show up, they’ve got to do the work. I just stand on the side, point and yell.”
“As a player, I think that you have more stance on actually what happens throughout the course of the game.”
Hoopsfest will tip off with Coach Cobb’s bunch at 10 a.m. on January 19th. In the 11:30 time slot, Dunklin and Willis will go head-to-head in a battle of Stanislaus versus Hancock.