In the 40-plus years Natchitoches Central High School has been in existence, the Chiefs had never brought home a state championship in boys basketball . . . until this past season, that is.
NCHS, seeded second in the Class 5A state tournament, toppled two-time defending champ and top seed Scotlandville 60-53 in the final, putting an exclamation point on a 31-3 season in the highest classification of Louisiana prep basketball.
What's even scarier, at least for the competition, is that coach Micah Coleman is bringing back four starters for 2015, all attracting collegiate attention and only one of which is a rising senior.
2016 F/C CAMERON LARD
The Most Outstanding Player from the 5A playoffs, Lard (6-9, 210) is unquestionably among the best post players in Louisiana, particularly on the defensive end. His mammoth performance against Scotlandville solidified as much and also helped the big man get a little retribution after missing out on the fun his freshman season.
"It was great, really fun and amazing," Lard recalled of the playoff run. "That was my first playoff appearance because I didn't play last year when I was injured. It was my pancreas. I got elbowed and I was in the hospital for the week. Missed the playoffs."
As a sophomore Lard, who lists his strengths as "posting up and blocking shots," did almost all of his damage on the interior. Heading into his junior season, he plans on more of the same, but that hasn't stopped Lard from attempting to add to his game.
"I'm trying to work on my handle a little bit, and I've got to keep my wind up," Lard explained, discussing his summer goals. "I'm always working on just being a smarter player."
With two more years of high school basketball to go, Lard has already begun to hear from a number of Division-I programs, some in-state and some outside of Louisiana.
The player reported offers from Baylor, Louisiana Tech (who's offered all four NCHS guys profiled in this piece), Tulane and Vanderbilt.
When it comes to his criterion in making a college selection, Lard indicated location will play a factor. "I don't want to go anywhere far off and leave the people I'm with, but the school, academic-wise, and how they play, of course, are important to me."
Lard has not yet taken the ACT and reported a GPA "around 2.5."
2016 F AUSTIN GUY
Lard's frontcourt mate and frequent high-low passing partner is Guy, who at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds has proven on numerous fronts he belongs in the conversation of best prep athlete in the state, regardless of age.
Guy, a lefty, has run a fastball up to 85 miles per hour as a pitcher and still serves as the starting quarterback for NCHS, where he recently rang up 11 touchdown passes on Alexandria Senior High School in a 7-on-7 meeting.
But, despite his prowess in all three sports, Guy informed TSD he's culled the herd in the past few weeks, leaving one sport in the rearview.
"Actually I'm just a two-sport athlete now," said Guy. "I just play football and basketball. I'll basically decide once my 12th grade year is almost over which one I like the most out of those two. That's when I'll decide."
The recruiting process hasn't done Guy any favors in that respect as he's receiving interest and offers from Division-I schools for both sports.
"I've been getting interest from schools for both football and basketball," Guy continued. "Last night I got a letter from Texas A&M for basketball. In football I've been getting interest from Arkansas, Ole Miss and some other schools."
All-told he's been offered by UNO and Louisiana Tech in basketball, with A&M showing interest, while he reported offers from Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, Southern and UL-Monroe in football, with Ole Miss showing interest.
"If I can I'd like to play both because I love playing the games," explained Guy. "They're fun. But if I do have to drop one, I wouldn't mind."
Guy's take on his on-court game: "I would describe myself as a big man, but sometimes coach does move me to a guard position just in case some of our guards get in trouble. In that case I can play the three. I can handle the ball pretty well for a big man."
And on the gridiron: "I like to play in the pocket, but if I have to maneuver myself and get out of the pocket and run that's fine with me. We do some read-option, too."
The latest speculation is that Guy may be a bigger football prospect on the next level, but one team source called him NCHS' "most consistent" player on the hardwood.
He reported a 2.75 GPA and plans to take the ACT for the first time this summer.
2015 G DANNY COHEN
Cohen, at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, is the lone senior of this quartet. His impressive playoff run, upping his scoring average to 20.8 points per game, has kept him on the radar of a number of in-state schools.
Already UL-Lafayette and Louisiana Tech have offered while UNO is expressing strong interest.
What are they all going after? According to Cohen, an off-the-ball perimeter player that likes to get after it on the defensive end.
"I would describe myself as an athletic two-guard. I can shoot it. Probably (prefer to play) in a halfcourt offense," explained Cohen. "I'm the type of player that likes to defend the other team's best player. I've heard that I stand up sometimes when I play defense, so I probably need to work on getting lower."
He's dedicated much of his time this summer to improving defensively and staying in an attacking mindset on offense.
"I would say I need to improve my left-handed ball-handling and making sure I stay aggressive the whole game," Cohen said.
Cohen, along with Lard, Guy and Rachal, played the beginning of this summer with Louisiana Elite, coached by Madison Prep's Jeff Jones. Lard played up with the 17s, joining Cohen, while Guy played for the 16s and Rachal for the 15s.
It was a productive period for Cohen, who said he's also been able to enjoy the spoils of bringing home a state title during this summer.
"This summer's been pretty fun," Cohen indicated with a smile. "I've been getting a lot of congratulations. ‘Are you going to do it again next year?' But we know it's really put a target on our backs, too."
A stellar student, evidenced by his 3.5 GPA, Cohen is putting the finishing touches on getting the ACT score he needs. "I made a 16 (the first time), so I took it again and I took the writing part, too, but the scores haven't come back yet."
2017 G BRANDON RACHAL
The baby of the bunch, Rachal (6-4.5, 200) could end up as the biggest recruit and most decorated player by the time he's done. Starting for the state champs as a freshman is something Rachal said continues to motivate him, even if he sometimes still can't believe it actually happened.
"It was unreal. I still can't believe it when I look at this ring and it's got my name on it," explained Rachal. "Being able to do it your freshman year is like a statement to me. It says young guys can do anything the older guys can do in terms of being a starter and things like that. It shows me I can do anything I want to. When we won, I gained confidence and started to realize that I can be pretty good at basketball."
His next challenge is adapting to a new full-time role.
"I can play just about anywhere on the floor," relayed Rachal. "In middle school I was the center, being 6-3 in middle school. But coming into high school I changed into a guard. I played the two- and three-guard last year, but this year I'm the starting point guard. So I feel like I can move around the floor and play a few different positions."
Perhaps his biggest asset on the court is locking down on opposing wings defensively. Rachal famously shut out 2015 Byrd guard Chad Lott during an overtime game the Chiefs won in January. It was an assignment he asked for, ultimately holding Lott to zero points on 0-of-8 shooting.
"It wasn't easy, I can tell you that," Rachal said, looking back. "But I take pride in my defense. I feel like in order for me to make my offense go, I have to play very good defense first. Defense wins championships, so I dedicate myself to defense. Anytime I get a chance to go up against a really good player or someone that everybody's raving about, I wanna go against them and see."
A wide receiver on the NCHS football team, Rachal has had a busy summer, playing for Louisiana Elite, his high school team's summer group and, a few weeks ago, trekking to the selective Crossroads Elite camp in Tennessee.
After his time at the camp, here's what the organizers had to say about Rachal: "Rachal showed up late to camp but quickly made his presence felt as a strong defender and athlete. He did a good job of turning defense into offense and demonstrated a developing perimeter game. As he improves his skillset and decision making he will continue to emerge regionally and possibly beyond."
As things stand now the rising sophomore has an offer from Louisiana Tech and interest from "plenty of good schools," including Southern, UL-Monroe, UL-Lafayette, UNO and Vanderbilt.
Mature beyond his age, Rachal already knows what's important to him regarding his collegiate decision down the road.
"When it comes down to colleges, the first thing I'm going to look at is academics. What's their academic history," answered Rachal, who wants to major in business. "Then I'm going to look at the coach and the players they're bringing back and the players they have coming in. I want to be able to see where I fit in. I'll also look at the offense to see how I'd fit into that."
Rachal reported a 3.75 GPA and plans to take the ACT for the first time as a sophomore.