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McNeese State head men's basketball coach Dave Simmons. (American Press)

McNeese State head men's basketball coach Dave Simmons. (American Press)

LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones. (Associated Press)

LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones. (Associated Press)

LSU, McNeese coaches trace hoop roots back to DeRidder

Last Modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 10:48 AM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

The game will be played at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, but its roots are on a playground court in DeRidder.

When McNeese State travels to LSU tonight, it will mark the first time Dave Simmons (DeRidder Class of ‘77) and Johnny Jones (DeRidder Class of ‘80) have faced one another as college head coaches. Game times is set for 7 p.m. The matchup will be televised by CoxSports, Ch. 57 in the Lake Area.

What was once easily avoidable when Jones was the head coach at North Texas became inevitable when he was hired by his college alma mater in the offseason.

“This is nothing we’ve ever looked forward to,” Jones said. “We’ve been in this profession for a long time, but we’ve been able to avoid each other. This was scheduled prior to my arrival. I’m sure it will be tough emotions for both of us because of our relationship.”

Jones is not exaggerating.

In the days when only one basketball game a week might be shown on television, heroes were made locally.

For Jones, Simmons was that hero.

“He is one of the guys I really idolized growing up,” Jones said. “Actually, that’s how I got the number 12, because I wanted to fill in his shoes and follow him there in high school.”

Jones, a freshman, backed up the senior Simmons at point guard for a Dragons team that went 41-1 with the only loss coming in the state championship game.

“Dave was a tremendous basketball player,” Jones said. “One of the hardest workers I have ever been around, not only in practice but individually. Not only in the gym but in the park, wherever he was. Be it shooting, dribbling, whatever it was.”

Both Jones and Simmons credited their high school coach, Dale Skinner, for his role in shaping both their playing and coaching careers.

“He laid a great foundation for working with people and character,” Simmons said. “He didn’t look at what size, what color we were. He looked at who could get on the floor and get the job done. I think you respect a guy who was always up-front and honest with you.”

A third member of that DeRidder team, Mike Sanders, is now an assistant coach for the Utah Jazz.

“DeRidder’s always been a basketball town,” Simmons said. “We just kind of found a tradition. But two coaches from the same town at the same time coaching against each other, it’s quite a little story.”

Simmons said the game’s narrative is about McNeese versus LSU, not Dave Simmons versus Johnny Jones. However, he does concede that it is at least a little bit about DeRidder.

“I know John and I both, to be coaching in your state, we’ve both been very blessed and fortunate to have grown up in DeRidder playing basketball,” Simmons said. “A lot of things have fallen our way.”

Jones is certainly glad that returning to LSU, where he starred as a player and then served as an assistant to Dale Brown, is one of the things that has turned out favorably.

“It’s been a great experience so far and something that I treasure,” Jones said.

Perhaps no one is prouder of both than Skinner.

Their former coach is now a principal at Natchitoches Central High School. Though he won’t be able to attend tonight’s game, he keeps in touch with both Jones and Simmons regularly.

“Once we developed the bond we did, it’s a very strong bond. Those are like my sons,” Skinner said. “I was just fortunate to get to work with those young men. They’ve been very successful at what they had to do. They know how a program ought to be run. I’m real proud of them.”

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