This is the first in a 16-day installment of previews featuring the 16 teams participating in the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Basketball Classic January 6 through January 8 at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner as well as at Country Day and Archbishop Rummel High Schools. NewOrleans.Com/Sports is an official sponsor of the event.
When you think of John Ehret High School, many images come to mind.
I think about the 1981 and 1985 football state champions of 4A. I think of Billy North's outstanding football teams. I think about the hard work of Boomer Newman in baseball. I think of Dean Tessitore's fine wrestling program. I think about what was the largest school in Louisiana.
Of course, there is the large shadow of John Ehret basketball as well. The Patriots reached the Top 28 tournament in 2001 and 2002. They played for the state championship in 1992, falling to St. Augustine in the championship game. In 1993, John Ehret captured the 5A state title, beating district rival Higgins 79-48 in the championship game.
Then came the magical 2006 season. Following Hurricane Katrina, many fled the New Orleans area and did not return. Others returned but found their schools decimated and unable to open. Al Collins took a group of kids from different backgrounds, meshed them together beautifully, and the Patriots became a real life story-book team, an inspiration to many as they went on to win the 5A state championship, defeating Woodlawn 62-57 in the championship game.
Collins was was named National Coach of the Year. The story proved so compelling that Hollywood noticed and made a film titled "Hurricane Season," starring Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker, who played the role of Collins. "He was pretty good," laughed Collins. "That group of kids will always be remembered around here for their exploits in basketball and as people. The film done on that team did a lot to expose their great character traits. The most important thing it did for us was to provide a symbol of extravagant character. Here were a bunch of people playing a child's game that gave so many pleasure.
There wasn't much to do then. Not much was open. The schools and the sporting events were the place to be. It was a great outlet. It was like going back in time. It really helped define those individuals in this community. They did a great job coming together," said Collins.
In his nine season at John Ehret, Collins has witnessed many changes. "When I first got to Ehret nine years go, there were 2,700 kids and three lunches. Now there are 1,600 kids and two lunches. The population base has changed. It is still a work in progress. The school is still good," said Collins.
The 2010-2011 Patriots are a good team, experienced. Ehret got off to a 9-1 start, losing only to 5A top-ranked St. Augustine 61-56 in the championship game of the Newman Invitational.
"We returned 10 of our top 12 players from a year ago. We felt we could have made a bigger push last season but we played a very good Covington team in the first rond and they got us. They were three or four shots from making the Top 28. We felt like based on who has returned for us that we would compete well with anyone this year. It's an interesting team. We have some size and good guards. Usually, you are missing bigger kids in this neck of the woods but honestly, we are not missing anything. We have the pieces. We just have to go about using them correctly and hoping they perform at their highest level."
Ehret's 5'11 senior guard O.C. Tart is a star. He is two-time all district player and preseason all-metro. Kevin Hill is a 6'6 junior forward who sat out last year and he has improved dramatically. 6'0 senior point guard Alfred Payton was an all-district player last year and has done an excellent job this year.
West Jefferson, Higgins and Bonnabel will prove to be difficult in district play. Chalmette is getting better and you cannot ignore King.
"We felt like we should have beaten St. Augustine. We led most of the game. They took a three-point lead late and they did a good job of closing the game out. We were up eight at halftime. We know we can compete with them and with the best teams in the state. We have confidence that we will continue to improve.
"It's going to be a tremendous privilege to compete in the Allstate Sugar Bowl tournament and to play at that level. Most kids they have to go out on the AAU circuit to play against that type of compettion. I'm happy to see it. We have a chance to showcase the talent we have in this area. We have good players. The Newman tournament helped with many scouts watching. The Sugar Bowl tournament will be even better," said Collins.