Longtime Southern Lab coach Joel Hawkins, Louisiana’s winningest boys basketball coach, dies at age 77 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- From left, Southern Lab coach Devan Clark, former Lab coach Joel Hawkins and Madison Prep coach Jeffrey Jones pose during the Hawkins Classic in in January at Southern University's F.G. Clark Activity Center .

When Devan Clark was coaching at Lafayette’s Northside High, a friend came to him with a basketball vision.

The friend wanted to build a program from scratch and leave the security of a steady job as an assistant coach. Now Clark and Madison Prep coach Jeff Jones look at each other and smile.

“Jeff told me what he wanted to do and the ideas he had,” Clark said. “It’s grown to the point where it’s surpassed would he hoped for, and I’m happy for him.”

Jones adds, “I’m glad Southern Lab made i.t … I’m glad we’re playing back-to-back at the state tournament. That’s nice.”

Yes, they’re rivals on the court and friends off it. The Jones/Clark bond is part of the story line as Class 2A Madison Prep and Clark’s 1A Southern Lab take their turn in the spotlight at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 on Thursday.

Third-seeded Southern Lab (25-7) meets No. 10 Tensas (24-9) in a 1A semifinal set for 4:30 p.m. at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles. Top-seeded Madison Prep (32-4) plays No. 4 North Caddo (29-5) in a 2A semifinal at 6:15 p.m.

“You know, we probably talk six days out of seven each week,” Clark said. “It’s been that way for me and Jeff for years. We bounce ideas off each other, and it’s very positive.”

The phrase “Brother from Another Mother” is the real story for Clark and Jones. Clark’s mother, Debra, mentored Jones when he came back to Southern University as a student after a stint in the military and before he became a Glen Oaks assistant.

“I think of Devan like a little brother,” Jones said. “We’ve always talked and shared. Our kids all know each other and get along. Once we get to Lake Charles, I know we’ll get together.”

The proper game plan for the challenges at hand is no doubt one topic they’ve discussed. Madison Prep moved up to 2A after winning the Class 1A state title last season. Southern Lab is making its first tourney appearance since 2012 and the first under Clark, now in his second season at his alma mater after leading Northside to a 4A runner-up finish in 2013.

The challenges are diverse. Southern Lab plays Tensas, a rural school located outside of Monroe where his family has roots. It’s what won’t be planted on the ground that concerns Clark.

“They’re not very tall, but they’re extremely athletic and play hard,” Clark said. “You’re talking about 5-foot-9 and 5-10 guys who can get to the rim and block shots. They’ll be aggressive.”

One of those guards, 5-10 Lamonte Bass, averages 18.6 points. Southern Lab counters with balance as 6-3 football standout Deion Rainey averages 12 points and six rebounds per game. The Kittens lost two 6-5 players during the season. One was an academic casualty and the other, football standout Chris Allen, opted to leave the team to focus on football. Southern Lab has won 10 straight.

Don’t talk to Madison Prep’s Jones about his team’s 15-game winning streak or being a top seed and the favorite, especially since his team has to face North Caddo’s 6-9 Robert Williams. Jones compares Williams to former MPA and LSU standout Jarell Martin.

“North Caddo has been here the last two years and you know they’re motivated,” Jones said. “Coach (Harvey) Adger (Glen Oaks coach) used to say all the time that perfume smells good, but if you drink, it’ll make you sick. There’s something to that.

“We can’t buy into the hype or anything else. We’re new to 2A, and we’re the underdogs. We’ve got to go in and work.”

Williams averages 25 points and 14 rebounds for NCHS and can make the 3-pointer. MPA will use a combination of players, including 6-6 Josh LeBlanc and 6-10 reserve Yuryk Lazard, to defend Williams. Josh Anderson averages 18.1 points and LeBlanc 17.3 points and 11.2 rebounds for MPA.