Southern Lab boys basketball coach Devan Clark started to laugh as he attempted to answer the question that no one in Louisiana has had a solution for.
“You know, I honestly don’t have a clue how you beat Madison Prep,” Clark said. “It’s not something I’ve even thought about. Let’s face it, nobody else around here has figured it out yet.
“Remember, this is my first year, and I’m still trying to figure us out. I think the best you can do is go out, play hard and try to be the best team you can be. That’s really all you can ask.”
Two distinct Baton Rouge basketball traditions collide on Friday night when Southern Lab (15-4, 1-0) hosts Madison Prep (21-1, 1-0) for a District 6-1A contest that helps highlight Friday’s schedule of games.
What’s notable is that the tripleheader featuring key boys and girls games is set for Southern University’s F.G. Clark Activity Center. The girls varsity game between MPA (18-7, 1-0) and SLHS (12-8, 2-0) is tentatively scheduled for 5:15 p.m. with the boys game to follow.
Having the games at the Clark Center is a return to tradition for Clark, the former Southern Lab star and SU player who coached at Lafayette’s Northside High before returning to SLHS this year.
Clark was one of the cornerstones who helped Southern Lab run off a string of titles in the 1990s. The Kittens’ total of 15 state titles is the most for any Louisiana school in boys basketball.
Madison Prep is the new power. The Chargers have shot to basketball prominence in Louisiana in just five seasons. MPA won a Class B state title two years ago and was the 1A runner-up last season.
Senior guard Brandon Sampson, a recent St. John’s commitment, leads the current MPA team that won the East Baton Rouge Parish Tournament for the first time last month. The Chargers’ lone loss was to Mississippi-based Calloway.
“This is definitely one of those games we can’t take for granted, and our guys know that,” MPA coach Jeff Jones said. “We know this is a different Southern Lab team than the one we saw in the parish tournament.
“They’ve got players who are now healthy back in the lineup. In a lot of ways, they match up with us well. They’ve got some size inside and can shoot it from outside. We’ll be going into a hostile environment where we’ll be tested, and that’s just what we need.”
The chance for a possible letdown by the Chargers does exist. Madison Prep plays 3A power University High in a Hall of Fame game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Baton Rouge Community College.
Jones’ team is one of the state’s deepest and is led by the 6-foot-5 Sampson, who averages 15.0 points per game. Another 6-5 player, sophomore Josh Anderson, is next at 14.0. Chris Thompson and Jalen Brown also average in double figures for the Chargers. Post player Yuryk Lazard is 6-9.
Guards Jordan Booker (6-3) and Sheldon Carroll (6-2) lead Southern Lab with scoring averages of 14.0 and 13.0. Two 6-5 football standouts, quarterback Bladrick Veal and defensive lineman Chris Allen, provide the inside presence.
One SLHS starter, Dontrell Carr, will miss Friday’s game because of a knee injury suffered in Tuesday’s win over Christian Life.
“I learned many years ago at Glen Oaks from coach (Harvey) Adger that once you get in district your goal is to win all your games at home and maybe steal one or two on the road,” Jones said. “This is one we’ll be trying to steal.”
Southern Lab, a 1A quarterfinalist the past three years, comes into the girls game as the favorite. SLHS coach Henry Combs said a much-improved MPA girls team is one to be reckoned with.
With 18 wins, coach Dwayne Hayes’ Chargers have already surpassed their wins total from a year ago.
“They’re a team that can attack you inside or outside,” Combs said. “What I’m looking for from my team is execution on offense and defense.”
Two freshmen, 6-2 Cailain Williams and 5-7 Sialus Payne, lead the SLHS girls. Both average better than 20 points per game.
Sherry Porter scored 27 points, while Lakendra Franklin added 21 in the Chargers’ Tuesday win over Varnado. Freshman Desmonique Gaines (5-11) also is one of the leading scorers for MPA.