The Florien boys basketball program was once a regular attendee at state basketball tournaments.
Eight years without a Top 28 appearance isn’t bad for almost any other program, but for a school that’s making its 22nd state tournament trip, the wait is finally over.
The Class B No. 1 Blackcats (41-3) end one of the longer droughts in program history when they take on No. 4 Fairview (32-5) on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Lake Charles’ Burton Coliseum.
Coach Klifford Walker says he and his team look at their gym wall full of state tournament participants, which include six championships and nine runner-ups, and he asks his squad a question.
“Do you want your name up there?” Walker said. “There are a lot of names on the board in the gym, and they are there forever.
“We talk about it, and it’s a big, big thing. The expectations are high here.”
The Blackcats are led by their eight-member junior class, which includes Bailey Walker (17 points, four assists per game), Keaton Booker (13 points per game), Jacob Oxley (12 points), Tyler Ryals (12 points, seven rebounds) and Anthony Kimbrough (10 points, seven rebounds).
Walker coached this bunch since they were in the sixth grade, and he said the natural maturation process has led to a state tournament return.
“They matured, and we did things like play road playoff games at places like Madison Prep and Rapides,” said Walker, who is also making his first trip with Florien to the state tournament. “But the biggest part is physically (maturing).
“We don’t get pushed around quite as much. These juniors stuck together since the fifth grade, and now this is what it’s bought them.”
A balanced Florien squad means teams can’t key on one or two players, and depth at the Class B level has been a factor in the Blackcats No. 1 seed.
“Our depth is a big advantage because a team can shut one player down, but when you have three or four, you have to play more honest,” Walker said.
“We can wear people down a little bit, and everybody is unselfish and plays hard.”
Before a state tournament appearance, Florien had to overcome an obstacle in its own backyard — the Zwolle Hawks.
The Blackcats beat the eventual No. 7 Hawks (lost in quarters) four out of five times this season, the first victories against Zwolle for the current players. Zwolle is a powerhouse Class B program that has 14 titles in 19 state tournament appearances.
“That’s big for these kids, huge for this group of juniors,” Walker said. “They beat us the first time (this season), but we beat them the last (four times).
“It was a battle every time we played, and those types of teams make you stronger.”
Fairview has its own impressive credentials, and Walker said playing against their size will be important.
“We’ve got to limit their big kid inside who’s averaging something like 25 points per game,” Walker said. “And we’ve got to handle their pressure.
“The majority of our scoring come from the paint, but its from our guards breaking down a defnesive player and creating an opening.”
If Florien should get past Fairview, the Blackcats will play the winner of No. 2 Midland and No. 3 Anacoco on Friday at 6 p.m.