Native son pushes WSJH basketball rebound

Published 12:01 am Saturday, January 14, 2017

EDGARD — Growing up as a member of the West St. John High School Rams, Alton Joseph had one goal.

He would return to his alma mater as a coach.

Even as he attended the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, he kept up with the school and its athletic teams through the good years and not-so-good ones.

“It was always the dream to come back,” said Joseph, a 2009 graduate who played football, basketball and baseball in high school. “I always wanted to come back to my alma mater and bring back the respect we used to have.”

Joseph’s dream finally came true in 2015, when he became an assistant football coach and head basketball coach at West St. John.

He quickly learned, though, coaching isn’t always easy.

His team won four games in his debut season. The Rams started this season 0-16.

“It’s a struggle,” Joseph said. “We’ve been playing some tough schools.”

The Rams came pretty close to getting their first win Wednesday night against rival St. James High. After a slow start, which led to a 20-7 deficit, they began to play catch up in the second quarter. The Rams even led 30-23 at the half.

St. James rallied for the lead in the third quarter. Still, the Rams were down by 1 with 30 seconds remaining — but missed a shot, leading to a hard-fought 57-55 defeat.

With one second remaining, they got the ball back — only to turn it over on the final play.

“We still had a chance to win,” Joseph said. “It was a hard-fought game. I’m proud of the way we fought back.”

Before the game, Joseph tried to put his finger on what is causing the West St. John basketball team to struggle.

It’s certainly not a lack of athletes. Rather, Joseph said, it’s a combination of things: The size of the school, its rural location, its brutally tough basketball district (which includes Riverside and Country Day), a couple of guys who aren’t eligible and, yes, its football team.

“It’s us being a football school,” he said. “Basically, we’re coming out of football real late. We played the last game and had two days of practice before we played our first basketball game. The first two weeks we played four games in a tournament. Most of the games we lost in the beginning of the season, we lost because of fatigue. We played good until the fourth quarter.”

It doesn’t help that the team is young and small, Joseph said. There are a few players who should be on the court who either chose not to be or who can’t be because of their grades. That leaves much of the burden on junior John Holmes, a 5-foot-11 point guard, who leads the team in scoring with 22 points per game.

West St. John guard John Holmes.

West St. John guard John Holmes.

“He’s pretty much it,” Joseph said.

The basketball-only athlete on the varsity squad at the tiny school of 199 students, Holmes said he thinks the team just needs to work harder.

“We’ve got athletes,” he said. “We just need to give better effort.

For senior Jamal Walters, one of those who came straight from football to the hardwood, it’s all about teamwork.

“We need to communicate with each other,” he said. “We need to play better as a team.
Joseph still has hopes for the Rams’ future. Next year the school will return to athletic competition as a Class 1A school. There also are a few eighth and ninth graders Joseph believes will make a difference.

“We’re going to get better,” Joseph said. “I still have a lot to learn.”