When Devan Clark started graduate school at Southern University the last thing he wanted to do was be a basketball coach.

Clark had done plenty as a player. He was a point guard who won five Class 1A state titles at Southern Lab and was a starter for Southern University.

“I was on a different track,” Clark said. “I was getting my master’s degree in administration. What I didn’t realize was that I still had a love and a passion for the game, and I got to see it in a while new light.”

Clark was approached by his former coach, Joel Hawkins, about becoming his assistant at Southern Lab. Four years and three more state titles later, Clark moved to Lafayette’s Northside High as head coach. Now in his seventh season, Clark is leading the Vikings to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Top 28 tournament for the third and looks to add to his title total. Clark previously took NHS to the Top 28 in 2007 and 2011 but has not won a title.

Northside (30-6) plays District 5-4A and Lafayette rival St. Thomas More (33-4) in the Class 4A final set for 8 p.m. Friday in Monroe at the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum.

“I think I learned from one of the best when I coached with my brother, Ricky,” STM coach Danny Broussard said. “And Devan learned from one of the best in coach Hawkins. That’s a bond we share. We have a great working relationship. And the games our teams play are so competitive. I don’t expect this one to be any different.”

Clark says Hawkins, who won 1,071 games at Lake Providence and Southern Lab, taught him a new appreciation for basketball as a coach. The 33-year-old Clark has gotten a new lesson from this Northside team.

“These guys didn’t have all the accolades when they came from middle school,” Clark said. “They came here to be part of the program and have put in the work to get to where they are. No matter what, they never quit. Neither does St. Thomas More. That’s why this is a good matchup.”

The Vikings trailed by 18 points in their quarterfinal win over East Jefferson and then trailed defending 4A state champion Peabody by double digits before claiming a 54-52 overtime win. NHS seeks its first win over STM this season. The Cougars beat Northside 48-43 and 54-51 in 5-4A play.

Northside is led by two 6-foot-4 players, Kendall Demouchet and Gerard Andrus. Demouchet, a senior, leads NHS with a 16.0 scoring average. Andrus, a junior, is at 13.0 and is the top rebounder with a 6.5 average.

Senior point guard Shannon James (5-10), freshman Brandon Ellis (5-8) and senior Delquan Logan (6-1) complete the starting lineup.

“For us, it starts with defense,” Clark said. “We play pressure defense for 32 minutes and take our chances.”