BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It’s been 25 years since longtime St. Stanislaus head coach Jay Ladner, alongside longtime Gulfport head coach and athletic director Bryan Caldwell, first pitched the idea of a high school basketball showcase to Mississippi Coast Coliseum officials.
And now, even five years into his tenure as the head coach at Southeastern Louisiana University, Ladner’s impact on the South Mississippi basketball scene only continues to grow.
As HoopsFest reaches the quarter-century mark, this year’s event features three different head coaches who played under Ladner during his SSC tenure: current Rock-A-Chaws head coach Aaron Dunklin, Long Beach’s Brandon Cobb and Hancock’s Derrick Willis.
“You look along the landscape of Mississippi basketball and we have a lot of (coaches that played under Ladner) in a lot of different spots," Dunklin said. That speaks to the testaments of the coaches' hard work, but then again Coach Ladner as well, the things he instilled in us. It really warms our hearts that the guys that we played with are going on to teach the game, to be students of the game as well.”
“I grew up looking up to Coach Willis over here and Coach Dunklin," Cobb said. "It’s kind of like a family, a St. Stanislaus brotherhood. We all get to compete against each other, it’s just a good, fun experience.”
“It’s just kind of like life coming full circle, and that opportunity to keep that Ladner tradition going of having one of his former players in this event, it’s a lot of fun,” Willis added.
The 25th annual HoopsFest tips off from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum on Saturday, January 19 at 10 a.m.