HATTIESBURG – Jay Ladner gave his father Larry Ladner the best birthday present Thursday. On Larry’s 82nd birthday, Jay was introduced as to the Southern Miss faithful as the next head basketball coach.
“It’ll be the most memorable birthday present I’ve ever received,” Larry said. “I would have never dreamed of this a week ago.”
Larry has a long history with the sport of basketball, and after coaching Picayune High School into the 1970s, he moved his family to Hattiesburg to start working at the university. He became an assistant professor and basketball specialist in the Department of Coaching and Sports Administration and worked at Southern Miss for more than a decade, so the Ladners have deep ties to Southern Miss.
“We love the university,” Larry said. “Of course, Jay loves the university, and being a basketball person, he loves basketball. He has a great vision for the potential of Southern Miss basketball, and I think it’ll be a great fit for him, his staff and the university.”
The Ladners grew up in the Oak Grove area when it was far from the blossoming community Hattiesburgers know of it now. Jay graduated from Oak Grove High School and continued his basketball career at Southern Miss from 1984 to 1988. He was a part of the 1987 NIT Championship team, and many of his former teammates were in attendance Thursday.
One teammate, Casey Fisher, admitted he never would have thought Ladner would be a basketball coach when the two played together in the 1980s. After all, Ladner was pre-med and earning his biology degree, so it was safe to assume Ladner had a bright financial future in a related field.
“Maybe some of the other players I thought about (being a head basketball coach),” Fisher said. “Once he started coaching at St. Stanislaus, I saw him win a state championship and coach in junior college, I said, ‘This guy can coach.’ This ain’t politics. Jay is a helluva coach. He’s a proven winner.”
Ladner coached St. Stanislaus for 20 seasons before moving back to Hattiesburg and taking over the Oak Grove program. Shortly after 2012 season ended, he received a call from Jones County Community College about the head-coaching position in Ellisville.
After winning a junior college national championship, he became the Southeastern Louisiana University head coach, where he has spent the last five years. At Southeastern, he compiled a 76-88 overall record with one NIT appearance. Ladner’s teams improved its win total from nine victories in his first year to 12, 16 then a 22-12 season during the 2017-2018 campaign. His Lions went 17-16 last season, however.
Ladner was one of four candidates who interviewed for the job in New Orleans earlier this week. Former Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, Southern Miss assistant and former player Clarence Weatherspoon and Texas Tech assistant Mark Adams were also interviewed, and Adams joined Ladner as finalists Thursday.
“I liken it to being in your conference championship game,” Ladner said of the final interview with Southern Miss. “If you win that one basketball game, you go to the NCAA Tournament, which is obviously the ultimate goal. I was all the way to the championship game. The goal was on the other side of that game, but you still have the toughest game you’ve played all year to go and get it. That’s the easiest analogy I could make.”
He was on his way back to Hammond after talking with McClain, deputy athletics director Jeff Mitchell and Southern Miss president Rodney Bennett when he received the call.
“I didn’t want to answer the call,” Ladner said. “I knew who it was and I knew that is was going to be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. So I stared at it for a couple of rings and I went ahead and answered it. With literally bated breath, Jeremy was on the other line and asked if I would be their basketball coach.”
Ladner wanted to be the next Southern Miss coach. He called it his dream job and somewhere he wants to stay until his career is done. Hattiesburg is home for Ladner.
“My love for this school goes without saying,” Ladner said. “To have an opportunity to come back and be part of it and coach basketball here, that’s the greatest thing in the world. This is a destination job for Jay Ladner, whereas other people may not see it that way. I love the place, I know what it’s about and I look forward to getting it back in its rightful place in the hierarchy of basketball.”
Ladner briefly met with the team Wednesday night in what he called a “skimming the surface type meeting,” and he expects to get going on offseason workouts once the holiday weekend is over. He started working on his staff immediately, though. He had an idea of which coaches he wants on his bench prior to receiving the job, and Kyle Roane will come to Southern Miss with Ladner. Weatherspoon, who was on Doc Sadler’s staff and is a Southern Miss basketball legend, and Ladner hadn’t spoken by the time of Ladner’s introduction, but the two will speak about the possibilities.