EDGARD — West St. John girls basketball coach Lester Smith remembers the day he spotted Jaylynn Gordon on a basketball court and knew she was special.
Gordon was but a bitty thing, he said, playing biddy basketball, with a whole bunch of boys, and putting on a show.
“They would pick teams, and they would always pick her,” said Smith, who spends much of his free time officiating youth games. “She was rough with them, very physical. And she could shoot. She wasn’t afraid to play with the boys, and she wasn’t afraid to shoot. The boys always wanted to pick her for their team.”
All Smith had to do was wait a while for her to play on his team. Gordon landed at West St. John as an eighth-grader and immediately earned her a spot as a starter.
Five years later, she is one of the best girls athletes ever to don a Rams uniform. The 5-foot-8 senior guard is averaging more than 27 points per game, is the first West St. John girls basketball player to receive a college scholarship (she will attend the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in the fall) and is leading her team to the Class 1A state championship game for the first time in school history.
Top-seeded West St. John (33-1) will play No. 2 Vermilion Catholic (29-6 ) at noon Thursday at Fant-Ewing Arena on the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
It’s been a long time coming for Smith, now in his 27th season as coach of the Rams girls team — many of them not nearly as successful as this one.
“I never gave up,” Smith said. “When I took over at West St. John it was just, they needed someone to coach. I wanted to do it, but it wasn’t about winning championships or anything.”
Over the years, Smith has seen West St. John grow into a championship contender. He’s coached good, even great, players, he said. Just not enough at the same time. That’s where this year’s team is different. Besides Gordon, who scored a game-high 32 points in the Rams’ 66-58 win over Central Catholic in the semifinals, the Rams have freshman Maya Trench, who scored 13 points in that game, and sophomore, Jajuan Nicholas, who scored 12. And more, Smith said.
“We have a very good bench,” Smith said.
“It’s not just about me,” said Gordon. “We have players that, when they come off the bench, we don’t lose a thing. We are very confident.”
But West St. John is not taking Vermilion Catholic lightly. Three VCHS players average double figures in scoring. Sophomore Ashlailee Brailey, 5-8, leads VCHS with a 25-point average. Katie Frith, a 5-11 junior, averages 22 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Kalin Collins, also 5-11, averages 12 points and eight rebounds.