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April 5, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Hanging state championship banners at River Ridge (La.) John Curtis has become an event that seems to happen with the turn of every sports season.
It is a tradition of excellence that starts with the football program and carries through all others. After taking home the school's first state basketball title, the school is one of just 13 in the nation to win a football and basketball title this season.
The Patriots are just one of six schools to be nationally ranked in both sports by RivalsHigh.com.
It is a rare distinction that wasn't lost on Mike Kracjer, Curtis' head basketball coach.
"We are nationally ranked?" he asked when finding out his team would end the year at No. 53 in the RivalsHigh 100. "Wow. That is amazing."
To get there his team downed No. 55 Reserve (La.) Riverside in the Class 2A state championship game, 57-48. The season-ending victory helped highlight a program-best year that included wins over Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara and No. 66 Brooklyn (NY) Boys & Girls.
While the success is unprecedented at Curtis, it was far from unexpected.
"We had four out of our five starters coming back," Kracjer said. "They set the goal and they knew it was achievable."
Morgan, a four-star shooting guard who has attended Curtis since kindergarten, was named the Class 2A Player of the Year. He is the No. 75 overall ranked player in the country by Rivals.com and will be headed to LSU next season.
Gordon, primarily a tight-end on the football team, will also be heading to LSU. He was the No. 23 ranked tight end by Rivals.com. He also was an honorable mention all-state center for basketball and is a standout baseball player as well.
Kracjer said that both are true competitors.
"Those two players were relentless about not losing," he said. "They put a lot of responsibility on themselves to push everyone at practice, to push people past where they would normally start to slow down."
Curtis plays an up-tempo style for the course of the game. It likes to run on offense and score in transition and plays man-to-man defense and gets into the press often. Being in shape as well as mentally strong are keys to the success of the program.
"It took me a few weeks," Gordon said. "But we are all competitors and worked hard to get up to speed with the guys that didn't play football."
Joining Gordon on the court and the gridiron were Raekwon James, a running back and point guard, and Malachi Dupree, a wide receiver and the team's sixth-man who played a combo guard-forward position.
Missing from the team was Patrick Morton, who was the quarterback on the football team but missed basketball after sustaining an injury. He was a 15 points-per-game scorer as the off-guard last season.
That core of players brought the winning mentality over with them from football.
"It was a desire to win, really," Kracjer said. "And a drive to succeed and not lose."
Kracjer said that each of those players were key cogs to the season.
"Dillon's presence in the middle was huge," he said. "Coming from football he was physical in the blocks and helped dominate the glass.
"Rae had such good vision and a desire to win that we would have a hard time replacing, and Malachi was our John Havlicek sixth-man. He could play guard or in the post."
Dupree came off the bench in the state finals and pulled down 14 rebounds in the win, something that Gordon said helped push the team forward.
"(Malachi) is just a really good athlete," he said. "He can do just about everything [well]."
As if to underscore the point, Dupree set the indoor state high-jump record this season despite not being involved in the team's formal practice schedule due to basketball participation.
Kracjer said he has had to use some creative scheduling to accommodate the football players. But it is a problem he is happy to have if it means that there is a strong relationship between the two programs.
"They have played in something like 17 straight state finals for football, so those kids are always getting to me late," he joked.
"I have to give credit to (football coach and headmaster) J.T. Curtis," Kracjer added. "He encourages all the kids to be a part of as much as they can be. We had a great crossover of football players and basketball players. And their practice ethic was tremendous."
It has helped add to the tradition of excellence that has started with the football program and now is moving to basketball.
"I wanted to win the football title since my freshman year," Gordon said. "We lost my sophomore and junior year but I didn't want to let that happen this year. Even with that title, I think the basketball one is more memorable because of what we went through together."