One of the volunteers from the Lake Charles organizing committee that helps run the LHSAA’s state tournament at Burton Coliseum was saying his good-byes with Walker High basketball coach Anthony Schiro Saturday night.
He had been assigned to help tend to any needs Schiro, his coaching staff or players may have with the hope of making their stay in Lake Charles a memorable one.
Moments after addressing his 2018-19 team for the final time after Walker had fallen 70-60 to Thibodaux in the Class 5A state championship game, Schiro exited the team’s locker room and into a hallway.
The volunteer was apologetic about Walker’s outcome but offered congratulations to Schiro on his season and hoped he’d get the same opportunity to serve the Wildcats next season.
“We’re going to do everything we can to be back,” responded Schiro, in his usual upbeat tone.
With that, a memorable 28-10 season is in the books and is no less extraordinary than the season before.
It just didn’t quite have the happy ending the Wildcats were looking, not a year after reaching the summit in Class 5A basketball for the first time in school history.
Nothing else quite compares to the sweet taste of success, especially a journey that had such a galvanizing effect on a community that showered Walker’s basketball program with such adulation.
This year’s team deserves no less.
“We don’t like this feeling,” Schiro said after Saturday’s game. “It’s not good and we’ll probably remember it for a while. We will move past it and hopefully be better because of it. That’s what life’s all about. The experiences that you don’t like, you learn from them and use them as motivation.”
A total of 51 non-select high schools played basketball this season and Walker finished second.
For a school that hadn’t produced a state tournament team in 62 years prior to last season’s watershed moment, the Wildcats made it back to Lake Charles for a second consecutive season and were on the cusp of second straight state crown where they were tied at 60-60.
The final two minutes, where Thibodaux went on a 10-0 run, shouldn’t define Walker’s season.
As Schiro pointed out during his postgame comments, the Wildcats didn’t have the same luxury of depth and experience of a year ago where that team had three 1,000-point career scorers.
Sure, Walker has two of the state’s top players in their respective classifications in junior point guard Jalen Cook and sophomore forward Brian Thomas Jr.
Together they averaged 56 points this season, giving everyone hope of another deep postseason run next season.
“We’ve got a good future ahead of us with these two guys here,” Schiro pointing to both players. “We’ll get back to work at some point in the near future and try and get better. We’ll try and get back here, hopefully next year.”
With the rise of the program’s profile Walker found itself in demand as a state-wide brand, something this year’s team benefited from participating in some of the top showcase events and tournaments ranging from New Orleans to Lake Charles to right at home with the Wildcats' own talent-laden Christmas Classic.
The arduous schedule resulted in more than twice as many losses compared to that of a year ago, but it was also at the heart of Walker’s return to the state title game. The Wildcats wound up encountering nine losses against six teams that were state tournament-bound – including two state champions.
Walker also had seven wins over teams that participated in the state tournament, including Division I winner Scotlandville. That represented the start of an historical run for the Wildcats who went undefeated in winning the school’s first district title since 1978.
Walker seemingly started to peak at the right time, evidenced by its 31-point margin of victory during the first three rounds of the state playoffs. Then the Wildcats had to withstand more of a physical confrontation in having to rally past second-seeded Ouachita where Cook put on a spectacular show with 37 points.
Thomas took over in the initial stages of Saturday’s final, scoring 20 of his game-high 29 points in the first half – including four 3-pointers and a pair of scintillating slam dunks.
The Wildcats only trailed for 27 seconds until there was less than five minutes remaining to be played, setting off a dramatic chain of events suggesting another fantastic finish was in store.
During the last four minutes there were three lead changes and the game was tied once at 60-all with 1:42 left when Walker’s offense suddenly dried up. Shots that had dropped earlier were no longer falling and the hard-charging Tigers, like the Wildcats the previous year, were crowned state champions for the first time.
“I can’t say enough about the season we had,” Schiro said. “Other than coming up short, what a great season.”
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