The bridge from New Orleans to Southeastern Conference men’s basketball has seen a lot of traffic lately.
This season, the SEC has its own version of the Crescent City Connection — one that stretches from College Station, Texas; to Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and down to Gainesville, Florida.
It’s unusual for a major conference to have two coaches from the same city, but the SEC has three who played their high school basketball in New Orleans — all in the Catholic League, no less.
That happened when Alabama’s Avery Johnson and Florida’s Mike White joined Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy, who’s in his fifth season with the Aggies, in the league this season. Johnson played at St. Augustine, White at Jesuit and Kennedy at Holy Cross.
“Me, Mike and Avery all played in the Catholic League, so we have similar (playing) backgrounds,” Kennedy said. “But it’s unusual to have three guys from the same district coaching in the SEC. In the ’70s and ’80s, the Catholic League won a number of state championships and basketball was played at a high level. It’s pretty unique.”
Throw in LSU’s Johnny Jones, who starred at DeRidder High, and four of the SEC’s 14 coaches played high school ball in Louisiana.
Jones will face all three of them in a four-game span. His team played White last weekend and will face Kennedy and Texas A&M on Tuesday before taking on Johnson, his old friend, and Alabama on Saturday.
It’s certainly unique to have that many basketball coaches in one league, especially considering football has long been king in the state.
While plenty of football players have come out of the Catholic League to make their mark on the college and pro levels, the district has produced its share of basketball players — and coaches — as well.
Kennedy, who previously was head coach at Centenary, Southeastern and Murray State, and Johnson, who’s in his first season as a college coach after spending seven seasons as an NBA head coach, played against each other in the early 1980s.
But Johnson, who went on to a stellar career at Southern after going to junior college and then played in the NBA for 16 seasons, will be the first to admit he was anything but a star back then.
??The success I had playing at St. Augustine for coach Watson Jones and coach Bernard Griffin was a valuable experience,” Johnson said with a smile. “I guess I shouldn’t say the success I had playing — because I didn’t play that much.
“I don’t want to make it sound like I was the star player,” he added. “But, yeah, the Catholic League was deep in talent. Not just in football, but in basketball, too.”
When asked about their high school careers, Kennedy smiled.
“It just goes to show you, I played a lot my senior year in high school and Avery was a junior and didn’t play very much,” Kennedy said. “He went on and became an NBA point guard and I never really played much in college, so (high school) really doesn’t matter.
“Avery, all his playing days were good in college when he got to Southern University,” he said. “At St. Aug, he played on a state championship team that had another NBA player (Donald Royal) on it. We beat them my senior year, and they went on and won the state title.”
The connection between Kennedy and Johnson also extends to White, even though he came along years after Kennedy’s career at Holy Cross ended.
White is the son of former Tulane athletic director Kevin White, who took the job in 1991 — just in time for Mike to begin his high school career at Jesuit.
Kennedy said the younger White visited Holy Cross before going to Jesuit. There, he played for Chris Jennings, a friend of Kennedy’s who had played at Jesuit for Kennedy’s stepfather, Kevin Trower.
“Mike probably has the best athletic gene pool out of all of us, being the son of an athletic director at Tulane, Notre Dame and Duke,” Kennedy said of White, who went on to play point guard for Ole Miss. “He’s been around the business side of athletics, and he understands it as well as any.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.