Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2010



RESERVE — Even at the beginning of March, 2010 has already been a year of firsts for Riverside.

For the first time, the Rebel boys’ basketball team won a district title. For the first time, it won over 30 games. For the first time, it earned the top seed in its classification entering the postseason. And many more firsts could be on the way — perhaps its first player of the year, its first season reaching the quarterfinals, semifinals, or finals, and yes, perhaps even its first state championship. The Rebels are certainly favored to do so.

But one need only to walk into the Rebel gym on game night to realize this for sure: for the first time, Riverside is a basketball school.

The change has been swift.


Timmy Byrd had no intention of leaving Reserve Christian. To say that Byrd, the school’s longtime basketball coach and athletic director, had built a dynasty of its basketball program would hardly do it justice. The Eagles were not only expected to win its classification every year, but to crush it. With six state championships in seven years, much was expected and much was accomplished.

But near the end of the 2009 school year Byrd heard rumblings the school would be closing due to financial issues. Despite his best efforts — he even led an effort to buy the school to halt its closure — Reserve Christian went under, and Byrd was in search of a new project.

After hearing pitches from a number of different schools, Byrd decided he wouldn’t stray too far. He landed at Riverside, not even two miles away from his old stomping grounds, as the school’s new basketball coach and athletic director.

Riverside had won only a single playoff basketball game in its history. While the Rebels boast a rich athletic history, basketball was seen as something like a secondary sport.

No more. The gym is packed on game night, and its team is winning in spectacular fashion more often than not.

“The transition could not have gone any smoother,” said Byrd. “It went without a hiccup, and that really surprised me. Anytime you make a big move like this there are always growing pains. But the Riverside administration, the alumni, the people … it’s been a whole lot better than I ever imagined it would be.”

Key to the on court turnaround has been an influx of players from Reserve Christian. Virtually the entire Class C championship roster made the move with Byrd.

That kind of a move could reasonably be expected to cause a shockwave throughout the school, with existing Rebel players and students making room for the newcomers and the RCS players and students having to adjust to new surroundings — some doing so in what would be their senior year at a school they had attended since early childhood.

But even that has gone without a hitch.

“I think Riverside may be surprised at how disciplined the Reserve kids are. And I think the Reserve people were surprised at how welcoming Riverside’s people are,” said Byrd. “It’s a great thing. Everyone is pulling in the same direction. Everyone is a Riverside Rebel now.”


Cedric Jenkins has seen and done a lot in his high school career. The 6-foot-2-inch guard has established himself as one of the state’s top sharpshooters, has tallied three All-State selections already and captured three state championships as a starter. He’s played in national AAU tournaments. He traveled with the Eagles to play against some of the best of the best in the country.

But the Reserve Christian/Riverside move was new ground even for him.

Now, instead of playing to continue an established tradition of winning, Jenkins and his teammates are playing to create something new.

“I feel like I’m more focused now,” said Jenkins. “At Reserve Christian, you’re playing for another state championship. Now, you’re playing to make history at Riverside. We’re doing it for everyone, the people that came before us, and the people here to support us now.”

Many of those who came before are tickled to death to see what Jenkins and his teammates have brought to the school.

Jenkins recounted a story told to him by a police officer who attended Riverside as a youth.

“He talked about how he used to play at Riverside and took basketball seriously, but others on the team really didn’t,” he said. “They just looked at it as a way to pass time between football and baseball season.”

No more.

“I love this,” said Jenkins. “Everyone can feel the love. It’s about one goal.”


When Ricardo Gathers stepped on the floor as a freshman last year at RCS, most seeing him for the first time had the same reaction: “That guy’s a freshman?”

Yup. All 6 feet, 7 inches and 235 pounds of him.

Less surprise is running through local high school gyms these days, as everyone knows all about Gathers, who has already garnered national attention from media and scouts — he’s a candidate this year via the ESPN RISE/Gatorade Player of the Year program to be named Louisiana’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

After over a year of drawing big crowd reactions via his often-spectacular slams and blocked shots, he’s grown used to the extra attention by now.

But even so, the bigger and louder reactions of this season threw him a bit.

“Even in games where you don’t think you’ll see a lot of fans come out, you look around and the place is packed,” said Gathers. “Right now we just hope to bring that state title back home to Reserve.”

Gathers said when he heard the rumors of Reserve Christian’s closure, he brushed them off.

“We really didn’t think it was true,” he said. “Everybody was shocked, talking about where they’d be going.”

Those decisions, for the most part, came quickly.

“I felt like last year we started a family,” said Gathers. “We wanted to keep it that way. Coach brought it to us as to where he was going. Cedric and I had decided we would stay together. We talked with the whole team and basically all agreed.”


Seniors Josh Tassin and Kane Keller didn’t make the jump from Reserve Christian. They are returning Rebels, a duo that has meshed this season with the incoming former Eagles.

Tassin and Keller were virtual career starters with the Rebels, carrying the scoring load game in and game out for a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in their prep careers.

On Friday night, each not only saw his playoff debut but also tasted postseason victory for the first time.

“It’s a lot more intense than the regular season,” said Keller.

The two have seen Riverside before and after its transformation, and the difference is stark.

“It’s weird. Last year nobody here even talked about basketball,” said Keller. “We went from never making the playoffs to being a championship contender.”

Said Tassin: “Last year we might have packed the gym for senior night. This year, it’s every night. It’s fun to play in that atmosphere. It’s really easy to get pumped up.”

When each heard the news of Byrd’s arrival and the impending influx of Reserve players, each was caught off guard.

“I didn’t know if I’d be playing,” said Keller.

“I’ve had three different coaches, and I’d thought we were just starting to really become a team,” said Tassin. “I had my doubts at first.”

Each player has filled a key role this season, albeit not the same as a year ago. Keller and Tassin play with the Rebels’ second unit, accomplished shooters that spread the floor and add a spark.

“We come off the bench with energy. We don’t have to carry the scoring load,” said Tassin. “Last year we had to look for our shots, open or not. Now we’re playing with the best players in the state. We play our role.”

Added Keller: “It’s fun playing with these guys. We have a chance to do something special. I didn’t know what to think at first, but ultimately it proved to be a very good thing.”


Riverside was scheduled to face 16th-seeded Port Barre Tuesday night at Riverside, after presstime. Every win from here on out is unchartered territory for the Rebel program.

But nobody will be satisfied with anything less than a championship, especially not the longtime Rebels who seek their first taste of glory.

“We’re so close. It would be a huge disappointment to come up short,” said Tassin. “It’s exciting.”

And not the young phenom, who is working on his second title.

“We know we’re the number one team. We believe we’re the number one team,” said Gathers. “Now it’s a matter of playing like we’re the number one team.”

And the veteran? He’s never settled for less before.

“I feel like I’m gunning for my first championship again,” said Jenkins. “It’s all new again.”