Photo by Hays Collins

By Billy Watkins

       They shook hands after the game, the winningest coach in Mississippi basketball history and the 34-year-old in his second year as a head coach.

       On this night, it was the legend, Richard Duease, offering congratulations.

       Jesse Taylor’s Jackson Academy boys defeated MRA 70-59 Wednesday night to win the MAIS Overall tournament at Mississippi College.

       In a quiet hallway just off the court where JA fans continued the celebration, Taylor shared what Duease said to him.

       “He told me ‘Heck of a season. You did a heck of a job,’ ” Taylor said. “That meant a lot. He’s won so many Overalls (15), been in so many situations, been in so many games. And he’s done so much for high school basketball in Mississippi.”

Photo by Hays Collins

       It can be said that Taylor has done much for JA in just two seasons. The Raiders had not won an Overall boys title since 2006, which is shocking in many ways. They finished 36-1 and are ranked No. 1 in MaxPreps’ all-schools Mississippi poll. Pascagoula, which dealt JA its only defeat, was ranked No. 2 entering the MHSAA state tournament.

       “I really tried to enjoy the entire day,” Taylor said. “We had a rocking pep rally at school. The players needed that. It’s been a long season. And I just had a peace all day, and I thank the Lord for that.”

       And in the biggest game of the season, Taylor’s best players took control. Mike and Mason Williams — the sons of former NBA star Mo Williams, now the head coach at Jackson State —combined for 41 points, hitting 17 of 38 shots. Mike, a junior who is rated the No. 22 shooting guard nationally in the 2025 class, had 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Mason, a sophomore, scored 23, grabbed four rebounds and made two steals.

       Junior Caleb Gaitor added 11 points and sophomore Marcus Goodloe scored 10.

       I asked the Williams’ proud dad postgame: “Who was happier, you after winning an NBA title or your sons tonight?”

       He laughed. “Meeeee!”


       So how did Taylor prepare the night before for the biggest game he would coach so far?

       “Well, our two boys (Jesse Jr., 7, and Jack, 4) ate ice cream with the team after practice, so they were wild from the sugar … wrestling and hyper,” Taylor said, laughing.

       Once the house turned quiet, he said goodnight to his wife, Laura, and went into his “work” room. He was there until 2 a.m., watching more tape of MRA.

       “We were prepared, I knew that,” he said. “But I’m pretty obsessive when it comes to watching film. I think it helps me during the game and for our pregame walk-through. If I can find just one thing that I need to remind our players about, then it’s worth it.”

       He also spent time reflecting on his life journey so far and his duty to JA., where he had spent three years as junior varsity coach and compiled an impressive 54-14 record.

       Taylor, who grew up in Chattanooga, was a solid player through high school and junior college.  

       When he began taking visits to four-year schools, he and his family felt an unusual peace during their trip to Mississippi College. It worked out for the player and school. With the Choctaws, Taylor led the conference in three-point shooting and was named captain of the team his senior year.

Photo by Hays Collins

       “I never expected to be here in Mississippi or at JA,” Taylor said. “It’s crazy. But I come from a family of believers, so we know it was God leading us here.”

       His faith played a role in becoming a coach.

       “God gave me a passion for basketball so I knew I wanted to coach,” he said. “I can get caught up in the X’s and O’s just like anybody else. But at the end of the day, I’m here to challenge these guys in the right way, to help them become men and share the gospel.”

       Sure, he knew how much winning an Overall would mean to JA, to the players, parents and staff. But he refused to dwell on that. He wanted his mind clear to coach.

       Wise thinking.

       His team trailed MRA 19-9 after a quarter. The Patriots’ shooters were red hot.

       As he gathered his players on the bench, Taylor reminded them of one of the team’s core values: Never too high, never too low. Be level. Stay focused. Continue to share the ball.

       “Good things will happen,” he told them.

       JA led 33-31 at halftime and 56-43 entering the fourth quarter.


       It is always easy to downplay a coach’s role when a team is supremely talented. Mike and Mason Williams are certainly that, and they have solid teammates.

       But this is what JA girls coach Jan Sojourner  — who has won six overalls in her incredible career — said postgame: “I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum When you’re an underdog, that’s an easy role to play. But when people expect you to win, your team has to bring it every game. That’s when it’s a real challenge for a coach.”

       “If you can’t get the chemistry right, then it doesn’t matter how much talent you have. Jesse has done a great job of getting these players to play together. I love how the players bought-in.”

       Mo Williams said: “This team is structured, you can see it. And this team will defend. Those things are important because they become a habit. Hey, the results are there.”

       Taylor was swarmed by fans after the game.

       “Finally!” some said.

       “Thank you,” others told him.

       “It’s special,” he said, “because JA deserved this. It’s an honor for our team to give it to them.”

       As we wrapped up our interview, I asked if things around his house might change for a few days. Maybe breakfast in bed, no taking out the garbage for a week or so.

       He laughed.

       “No. As soon as I get home, Jesse (Jr.) and Jack will be wanting to wrestle. They’ll be tugging at my (winning) medal and asking if they got one,” he said. “Being a father is such a blessing. If we’d lost, they’d love me just the same … and still want to wrestle each other.”