Ask Micah Coleman who has been his most important player this season, and he might give a different answer every time.
That’s because Coleman, the boys basketball coach at Natchitoches Central, has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
There’s Austin Guy, the 6-foot-4 sophomore forward who when he’s not playing quarterback on the Chiefs’ football team doubles as their leading scorer and rebounder on the hardwood.
Despite Guy’s size, he’s not even close to the biggest member of the NCHS frontcourt. That honor belongs to 6-8, 210-pound sophomore center Cameron Lard, whom Coleman called the team’s “big anchor” on the defensive end and is improving as an offensive force.
Brandon Rachal, a 6-4 freshman guard, is the team’s lockdown defender. He famously shut down Byrd guard Chad Lott, one of the top juniors in the state, holding him to zero points in an overtime victory in early January.
Lately, though, Coleman might say 6-1 junior guard Danny Cohen has been the team’s best player. He scored 27 points in a win over New Iberia in the second round of the playoffs, 19 in a quarterfinal win over East Ascension last Friday and is averaging a team-leading 18.6 points per game during the playoffs.
“He has just blown up,” Coleman said of Cohen. “We have been telling him all year he was capable of that. I just don’t think he thought he was capable.”
“We have plenty of guys who can get us 20 to 30 (points) each night, so we don’t have to depend on one person,” Cohen said.
And though he rarely scores, senior point guard Andre Jackson is the Chiefs’ unquestioned leader. Cohen said the 5-8 Jackson is a “big ball of energy,” while Coleman said Jackson’s basketball IQ “allows us to do a lot of things.” Though he only averages about five points per game, he leads the Chiefs with eight assists per game and puts them in the right position.
That depth and talent is one of the main reasons the Chiefs find themselves as the No. 2 team in Class 5A and heading into tonight’s semifinal contest against No. 19 Thibodaux (23-8) at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
Natchitoches Central (29-3) has found itself near the top of 5A all season. The Chiefs’ three losses have been to some of the top teams in the state — by one point at Tioga, to 4A No. 1 Landry-Walker and against 3A No. 2 Bossier.
The loss to Bossier on Jan. 4 was a turning point in the season as the Chiefs won their final 13 regular-season games and enter tonight’s game on a 16-game winning streak. Jackson said the Chiefs refocused after the Bossier loss and began playing like a team that could win a state championship.
“Our defense has really picked up since then,” Jackson said. “We just really have been playing hard and with a lot of intensity.”
“It took us through the Bossier tournament for our kids to figure out they’re pretty good,” Coleman said. “I try to convince them every day: Guys, you have a chance to be pretty good.”
Natchitoches Central has never won a boys basketball title. The last title the city has seen came in 1958 when the pre-consolidated Natchitoches High won a championship. But it’s not like the Chiefs are strangers to this point. They made it to the semifinals two years ago before losing to McKinley.
That’s a loss that still eats at Coleman, who watched his team blow a late lead in a one-point defeat. Coleman began to recall that game on Monday before switching gears and focusing instead on tonight’s matchup against a Cinderella team that has won two of its playoff games against higher seeds by three points or less.
Coleman said Thibodaux is a team that is scary, and he expects the Tigers to be well prepared and well coached tonight. In the Chiefs’ previous wins over New Iberia and East Ascension, Coleman said he had a better idea of specific things to prepare for than he does against Thibodaux.
“Thibodaux does a lot of things well,” he said. “Nothing just stands out, but they do all the little things well. We’ve got to be better at all those little things than they are.”
“We just need to stay focused, stay humble and of course keep God first and just play our game,” Cohen said.
Jackson said the Chiefs enter the Top 28 feeling confident that if they play like they have all season, they can make history with the school’s first championship.
“It would be great for the community, the city, because this would be the first championship banner,” he said. “This is what everybody wants. This is what everybody in the state hopes for.”