Coming off of last season's 24-8 record and a trip to the Class 5A state quarterfinals that included a win against No. 1 seeded East Ascension, this year's Slidell High boys basketball team is hungry for more.
Its goal is to reach the state tournament for the first time since the 1998 season. And it's off to a good start.
After a win over Hannan on the road on Dec. 21, coach Dale Chimento’s squad stands 12-3 on the 2017-18 season and is ranked 10th in the latest Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) boys basketball power rankings. The Tigers' start is even more impressive considering the fact they lost one of their top players, senior guard Marc Merriman, to a pre-season knee injury.
“It was difficult at first,” Merriman’s brother, junior guard Jonathan Merriman, said of not having Marc on the court with him. “But as time has passed, I have realized that not having Marc here just means I have to redouble my efforts to be that much of a better basketball player both on and off the court. Do whatever is necessary to help my team win.”
Jonathan Merriman has seen a lot of time at the point guard position, something he said he has started to feel more comfortable with as the season has progressed.
“My dream is to run the point on the collegiate level,” he said. “I’ve been working hard on trying to get my teammates more involved offensively and becoming more of a vocal leader defensively.
“Make no mistake, this entire team feels like we have the talent to not only compete for, but win a district championship. We can do big things in the postseason, too. The sky is the limit.”
One of Merriman’s running mates in the backcourt for the Tigers is fellow junior Tylor Harris.
Harris, who decided to give up playing both football and basketball, believes staying with basketball was the right decision.
“To play sports you have to be completely 100 percent into it, and that just wasn’t happening for me with football,” he said. “I just wasn’t having fun. So I went back to what I do best. Basketball is my first real love. I have been playing this sport since I was 4. I absolutely love it.”
Starring in the backcourt with Merriman, Harris said he enjoys the responsibility of being one of the players who help the Tiger machine go.
“Even though Jonathan and I are juniors, I like to feel like we have slid into a leadership role on this year’s squad,” he said. “I feel like we get our group going. Losing Marc really hurt us before the season started, but it’s like what Jonathan said: It just made us step up that much more.
“Getting to the state quarterfinals like we did last year and getting that taste of success just makes us that much more wanting of the next step. I really felt like we brought the Slidell program back last year. Now is the time to take the next step. We don’t want to let anything stop us. We are more experienced now and are working extremely hard.”
Taking the Tigers to the state tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years will indeed be tough, Chimento said.
“I think we have a long way to go to get to be better than we were at the end of last year,” Chimento said. “We have the potential to be better, but we aren’t there yet. We have to learn how to excel in every possession of every game.
“The quickness of this team is its best asset, and they love to play defense. If we can get them in the right positions, then we have a chance in every game we play.”