Madison Prep coach Jeff Jones was impressed the first time he met Byron Starks.
At the time, Jones was the coach of a first-year MPA program no one had ever heard of and Starks was coaching at Crowley’s Northside Christian.
Even then, Jones could see the possibilities.
“I think he (Starks) and I believed we’d probably get the chance to meet for a 1A title some day,” Jones said. “And here we are.”
Top-seeded Madison Prep (34-1) takes on Starks and Lafayette Christian (27-3), the No. 2 seed, in the Class 1A final that opens Saturday’s action at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament. Game time is 1 p.m. at Burton Coliseum for two of Louisiana’s newest teams of shooting stars.
Both schools have made a meteoric rise through Louisiana’s basketball ranks. Madison Prep’s fifth-year program is in the Top 28 for the fourth straight year and in a title game for the third year in a row.
The Chargers were the 1A runner-up to Metairie Park Country Day a year ago and won the Class B title in 2013. Lafayette Christian also started in Class B and moved up to 1A last season, losing to Madison Prep in the semifinals.
“I got a chance to see them early on and they’re long and cover a lot of ground and can move up the court at a quick pace as well,” Starks said. “Our goal is to slow them down and do our best to keep them off the glass as well.
“We have some guys that can match up with them. I told the guys the couple of inches we give up you have to make up in heart and get out there and play hard, box them out and do what we’re capable of doing.”
This title game is definitely a matchup of teams that are more alike than different. Both prefer a fast tempo and can smother opponents with pressure defense in the fullcourt or the halfcourt.
St. John’s signee Brandon Sampson helps lead a balanced offense, averaging 15.9 points per game. Joshua Anderson averages 14.2 and forms a 6-foot-5 backcourt combo with Sampson. Rhode Island signee Christian Thompson (12.1), a 6-4 guard, and 6-6 freshman Joshua LeBlanc (10.0) are other offensive leaders.
The Chargers turned up the heat defensively in their 47-32 semifinal win over Country Day. MPA made 69.2 percent of its shots and limited Country to 27.9 shooting. Sampson and LeBlanc each had 13 points. LeBlanc also had 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
Twins Jacob (17.6 points per game) and Kalob LeDoux (16.5) lead Lafayette Christian in scoring. Greg Williams adds 13. Kalob LeDoux made 11 of 17 shots and scored 30 points in LCA’s 72-59 win over Arcadia in the semifinals.
The Knights have several players in the 6-2 to 6-5 range. Madison Prep has the height advantage and can bring 6-9 Yuryk Lazard off the bench.
“They’re a phenomenal ballclub,” Jones said of LCA. “They’re a small school with big-school talent. One of the main things we have to do is take care of the basketball.
“If you watched their semifinal, you saw that Arcadia was right there with them. But then they forced some turnovers and that led to Arcadia’s demise. With the LeDoux twins and Williams they have a lot of talent. We need to take away two of those options, and we need to score when have our chances.”