While most kids his age are spending the summer relaxing from the stresses of school, Calvin Adams, a guard on the Zachary Broncos basketball team, has been playing with the Stateline Raiders, an Amateur Athletic Union all-star team from the region.
For Adams and his Zachary teammate Jadarion Davis, their time is filled with intense practice and tournament competition for 16-year-old players. Besides the two from Zachary, the team includes seven players from West Feliciana Parish, one from Livonia and one from Mandeville.
The Raiders are coached by Len Tillery, who also serves as an assistant on the West Feliciana High boys’ squad. He’s assisted by Dedric Williams and Antonio Whitaker. This is their eighth season with the Raiders, and they usually get together twice a week to practice, with tournaments on the weekends.
“When I was a kid, we had bitty basketball, and we’d go around the state and play,” said Tillery, who works at Winn-Dixie. “When they stopped having it, I wanted to do something where kids had a chance to leave the parish. The three of us (coaches) all played bitty basketball together, and we wanted to pass along that experience.”
The Raiders team will play a total of eight tournaments in places like Mandeville and New Orleans, Houston, Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Nationals in Dallas at the end of July. The team won a tourney in Houston in April to qualify for the national event. They also finished second in Biloxi and third in New Orleans and have a 14-3 overall record.
The weekend tournaments are typically four games and feature eight- to 16-team fields. Last year, at the Nationals in Orlando, Florida, the Raiders won two and lost two.
Tillery said he believes his team has the right combination of experience and skill to make a good run at the national title this year. The Raiders begin with pool play, then advance to bracket play with a single elimination format.
“Out of the 50 teams that’ll be at Nationals, we’re in the top five or top 10 teams,” Tillery said.
The team is led offensively by Adams, who is ranked among the top 50 players in the state, Davis and a trio of starters from West Feliciana: Devon Harris, a standout multi-sport athlete in football and track and field, Chad Tillery and Antonio Whitaker.
“Adams is the perfect kid to coach,” Tillery said. “He is eager to learn and does everything we tell him. Jadarion contributes consistently. We have a well-balanced team.”
Seeing plenty of action off the bench are Deontae Brown, of Livonia, and JaQuaylon Sterling, Richard Harris, Johnell Cain and Khiry Morrison, of West Feliciana. Janero Porter, who made regular trips from Mandeville to be part of the team, suffered a torn ACL a month ago and is out for the rest of the summer.
“He is a real good player with special talent and was coming to St. Francisville to practice,” Tillery said. “All of our players are good kids and work hard.”
Tillery said his squad can play different styles depending on the competition, sometimes a fast up-tempo or a fundamental and disciplined half-court game where they slow it down.
The Raiders have one more tournament, the New Orleans Carnival Hoopfest on July 15-17, before traveling to Dallas on July 27-31 for the Nationals.
Tillery said the team is mostly self-funded and always is looking for sponsors to help cover the costs of travel.
“Fundraising is the toughest part of the job,” Tillery said. “If a kid has talent and loves basketball, we try to work it out for them. We host fundraisers such as car washes, but the parents pay most of the expenses.”
The team will host an end-of-year banquet in August at the Magnuson Hotel, in St. Francisville, that’s open players, parents, relatives and anyone who would like to attend. Next year, the goal is to play a national event in Las Vegas.
To help with expenses, call Tillery at (225) 721-0403.
Send sports news, photos and stats to Howard Arceneaux at email@example.com.