The year is 1987 and Jay Ladner is a part of the Southern Miss team that just won the NIT championship under the legendary MK Turk. Now, the year is 2019 and Ladner is the head men’s basketball coach of a Southern Miss program that won the NIT Championship back in 1987.
A happy homecoming 32 years in the making and a full circle opportunity for Coach Ladner at his alma mater.
“So in the simplest terms, Jay Ladner is a winner. And I look forward to him leading our basketball program for many, many years to come. I’d like to introduce to you, your new men’s basketball coach at Southern Miss, Jay Ladner.” It’s a fight song Jay Ladner knows well, considering he’s now moved to Hattiesburg three different times in his life. “There’s one thing to go coach at a job. There’s another thing for me personally to be able to coach here.”
Ladner’s first division I coaching opportunity came at Southeastern Louisiana where he spent the past five seasons turning around an otherwise struggling program. He was then an immediate front-runner for USM when Doc Sadler stepped down last week to rejoin Nebraska as an assistant. Ladner’s way of accepting that USM job was even more immediate. “I’m not sure what I even get paid Jeremy, I really don’t. I may be working for free here because I was so excited about the opportunity that I immediately said yes.”
For a guy that went into pharmaceutical sales upon graduating from Southern Miss in 1988, Ladner turned out to be a darn good basketball coach with a ton of experience. “I wish I looked like I did in ’87.”
Twenty years at St. Stanislaus capped off by a 4A state title for the Rock-A-Chaws in 2011. One year at Oak Grove followed by two years at Jones County Junior College where Ladner led the Bobcats to the NJCAA Tournament championship in 2014. Tack on that 1987 NIT crown and that makes Ladner the only common denominator between the only two national titles in the history of collegiate basketball in Mississippi. “We’re in this to win it. We’re in this to win it. We’re not in it to have winning seasons, we’re in it to win it. We’re in it to win conference championships. We’re in it to go to the NCAA Tournament. We’re in it to win the NCAA Tournament. That’s what we’re in it for.”
The program’s first 20 win season since 2014 is a good place to start. “Let’s take this and add, pour gasoline basically on what we have today. The fire started. It’s my responsibility, our responsibility, our group’s responsibility to keep that fire burning.”
With more than three decades of connections that fire is a hotbed for recruitment just waiting to happen. “The phrase a gold mine, a gold mine. Well, we have a black and gold mine here. We’ve just got to start selling it like that. We’ve got to start letting people know what we have here.”
If nothing else, the Golden Eagles appear to have Coach Ladner for the long haul in a place where his dream job and his destination job collide. “This is a destination job for Jay Ladner, whereas other people may not see it that way. I love the place, I know what it’s about and looking forward to getting it back to its rightful place in the hierarchy of basketball.”
Ladner says his coaching career has always kept him within driving distance of his mom’s red beans and fried chicken. As for his father, long-time Picayune Coach Jay Larry Ladner celebrated a birthday today.