BOYS BASKETBALL: Four Memorial seniors help Coleman build program since arrival

Published 7:50 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Kenneth Coleman got his first look at Port Arthur Memorial’s class of 2018 basketball players as freshmen when he was coaching at North Shore, seeing how the ninth-grade games between the two teams were very competitive.

“In my heart, I really wanted to have an opportunity to coach these kids,” he said. “When I got here, to my surprise, [Memorial] had more kids than I was even aware of.”

The next season, guards Darion Chatman and Reao “Trey” Keller, forward Thailan Wesley and center Tyler Guidry made Coleman’s first varsity team at Memorial, all four of them getting starts as sophomores.

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“It started with them,” Coleman said. “… They bought into what we try to sell, which is build a program, and they come to work every day.”

As the nine Titan seniors try to see their high school careers culminate in Port Arthur’s first state championship in 23 years — Stephen Jackson-led Lincoln was the last to win it all — Wesley, Guidry and Keller are already enjoying some fruits of their labor as three-year varsity players who helped laid the foundation for the Coleman era.

Chatman? Well, he’s a four-year varsity Titan. But he admitted it took him time to acclimate to Coleman’s brand of basketball after spending his freshman season under Travis Williams.

“With coach Coleman, it was all defense,” Chatman said. “With coach T, it wasn’t. We had to buy into what coach [Coleman] was telling us.”

Keller feels Coleman’s impact most in the way he helps the Titans build character.

“He’s trying to build us as men and not just basketball players,” Keller said. “It’s more than basketball. He tries to help us in life. He wants us to be mature and make it in life. All the lessons and scriptures he tells us, it’s to help us.”

The Titans (30-5) have taken big steps under Coleman. In his first season at the helm, they went 13-15 and were seeded fourth out of District 21-6A going into the bi-district round, where South Houston promptly eliminated Memorial 80-56.

The next season, the team added key cogs like 2018 seniors Jomard Valsin and Jyson Butler, won a share of the District 22-5A title and reached the UIL 5A Region III quarterfinals against eventual state runner-up Fort Bend Marshall, at the time Memorial’s longest playoff voyage. Memorial had not won district since 2009.

This season, with Jamyus Jones transferring from Sabine Pass to bolster an already strong backcourt, Memorial has won 22 straight games, won 22-5A outright and has gone one step further in the regional rounds. Whitehouse (28-6) awaits the Titans for a Friday night tussle at Delmar Fieldhouse, with the winner going to Saturday’s Region III final against either Bryan or Fort Bend Elkins.

“We’ve finally bought in to what [Coleman has] been telling us the last three years, and we’re playing as a team,” Guidry said. “And we stuck to our motto of defense wins games. That’s how we’ve been playing.”

Sure, Coleman draws on his experience as an assistant under David Green on North Shore’s 2014 5A state championship team led by current University of Texas standout Kerwin Roach II. (Class 5A became 6A after that season.)

“Any time you’ve had an opportunity to gain experience by winning a championship, it’s things you’re going to bring with you,” Coleman said. “Paying attention to detail, working hard every day, peaking at the right time — and I believe we are, not overworking the kids but not underworking the kids, because it’s a war of attrition in the end.”

Defenses are keying in on the 6-foot-2 Wesley, who has a confident outside shot as well as the ability to score off the dribble. Wesley turned in games of 40 and 26 points in the first two playoff wins this year, but was held to 10 points in Tuesday’s win over Humble.

“They were denying me [the ball] from the very beginning,” said Wesley, his season stats unavailable. “I just keep flow with the game. Coleman just said, ‘Don’t try to do nothing spectacular. Just keep with the flow of the game.’”

Said Wesley: “He’s a one-of-a-kind scorer. I’ve never seen anyone like him.”

Guidry and Keller have become key players off the bench as sophomore post Nate Clover and forward Valsin emerged onto the starting lineup. Butler, a guard known for hitting clutch and momentum-swinging shots, has been big factor in the Titans’ recent postseason success.

Memorial rounds out the senior class with Butler’s twin brother Jaric and Jones’ former Sabine Pass teammate Jamal Dorsey, both who can come in and contribute as well. But Keller uses his sixth-man role as a way to mentor younger players.

“Just stay working and never get relaxed, stay motivated,” Keller said. “If you have a vision, you can accomplish what you want to do, and you accomplish something like what we’re trying to accomplish now.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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