The MHSAA Class 4A Basketball State Championships at the Mississippi Coliseum in downtown Jackson, Miss., on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

By Robert Wilson

       Raymond boys basketball coach Tony Tadlock has led his Rangers to three MHSAA Class 4A state championships and five straight title games – every year he has been at the Hinds County school – a rare feat among Mississippi high school basketball programs.

       But there is so much more that this 34-year-old Pearl and Southern Miss graduate does to make his program go.

       Tadlock visits his former players who are playing in college whenever he can. He has Raymond alumni playing at Mississippi College, Belhaven University, Tougaloo College, East Mississippi Community College, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, Alabama-Birmingham, West Alabama, and Tarleton (Texas) State and has visited most of them this season. Tadlock might be king of social media among high school coaches in Mississippi, always keeping Ranger fans up to date on what’s going on with his program.

       Tadlock currently has seven former players playing college and sent 14 over the past five years to college programs and two more have played college baseball and one college football.

       “We promote a sense of family within our program and that never stops once you leave,” Tadlock said. “We tell our guys that you graduate from Raymond High School, but you never graduate from our program. We promote our guys through social media and go check out their games. It’s a great feeling to see them furthering their education doing something they love.”

       And Tadlock loves to coach and mentor his players. His coaching career started at Meridian High where he was an assistant boys coach for six years, five under Randy Bolden and one under Ron Norman, and helped each win a Class 6A state championship. Then, Tadlock came to Raymond and replaced Robert Greene as head coach and Tadlock led Raymond to the 4A state title in 2017-2018 season, his first at Raymond.

       “I played (at Pearl High) and worked for (at Meridian High) Randy Bolden and I worked for Ron Norman and learned a lot from these guys that I incorporate in my program on a daily basis,” Tadlock said. “I talk to both of them a lot to this day.”

       “I’m really proud of Tony, he has helped establish Raymond high school basketball as one of the premier programs in the state,” said Bolden, who is in his second season as head coach at Mississippi College. “When Tony played for me at Pearl, his understanding of the game exceeded the typical player in high school and when he came to Meridian to work with me, his work ethic along with his ability to connect with the kids and get the most out of them was really impressive.”

       One of the many players Tadlock had a positive influence on was Tradavis Thompson, a junior guard who plays for Bolden at Mississippi College and leads the Choctaws in scoring.

       “Coach T taught me a lot about basketball and pushed me to become a better man,” Thompson said. “He was more about helping me become a better person than a better basketball player. Coach T is like a father figure in my life and I’m thankful God put him in my life.”

       “Coach Tadlock’s impact on his players goes far beyond the on-court success,” Raymond principal Lorenzo Grimes said. “He drives athletes to be better on and off the court and creates a culture that cultivates excellent young men. Coach Tadlock serves as a positive male role model throughout the school and the community.”

       Tadlock has a 159-36 record in his six seasons at Raymond despite putting together a difficult schedule with larger class schools and tough out of state tournaments to get his teams ready for district play and the state playoffs. It has been paid off huge dividends by helping Raymond reach the state title game each of the past five seasons Tadlock has been head coach.

       “I always believe that you have to be battle tested in winning a championship and that starts with a tough schedule year in and year out,” Tadlock said. “The harder the games are early in the season; it makes that run during district play much easier. I want a top five schedule in the state each year.”

       Tadlock – who is assisted by Richard Caston (fourth year) and Darrien Hilliard (first year) – was named the Mississippi Association of Coaches Boys Basketball Coach of the Year after winning his third state title in five seasons at Raymond. Tadlock, who doubles as an assistant principal, recently was named the Region III Boys Basketball Coach of the Year and is one of eight nominees for the National Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. The regional and national awards are normally won by coaches who have many more years of coaching experience so to be recognized regionally or possibly nationally is a credit to Tadlock’s success and reputation.

       “One thing I never wanted to do when I got to Raymond was to a one hit wonder,” Tadlock said. “To be respected as a coach, you need to prove that you can build and maintain a program over the long haul. It takes an all-out buy in from everyone and we have been blessed with that. One of the biggest accomplishments is being able to send so many guys to college over the years. It’s more than just basketball with us. It’s about growing each individual person within our program to be better people through the game of basketball.”

This season has been one of Tadlock’s toughest rebuild, having to replace four starters, including All Metro players Jabarie Robinson and Tremaine Dixon.

       “We lost our top three scorers,” Tadlock said. “It’s been unique watching the team grow up throughout the season. Each year we lose multiple starters, and the challenge is being able to mold each group to be able to reach our ultimate goal.”

       Tadlock’s team this season is built around one of the top big men in the South, 6-foot-9 junior forward EJ Peymon. Peymon – who was named the Mississippi Association of Coaches Class 4A State Player of the Year this weekend – is averaging 22.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. Peymon – the No. 1 player in Mississippi in the Class of 2024 by ESPN – has Division I offers from Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Texas Christian University, New Mexico State. He has career highs of 27 points against McComb and 23 rebounds against Class 6A Biloxi. Peymon – a member of the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – played at First Love Christian Academy in Washington, Pa., as an eighth grader before transferring back home to play at Raymond as a freshman.

       “EJ is a talented player, but what makes him special is he is a super kid,” Tadlock said. “He’s a gym rat and wants to get better daily.”

       Raymond’s other starters are junior guard Keymarius Lewis (17.4 points per game and like Peymon who will play in the North-South Junior All-Star Game), senior guard Zhakeius Jackson, junior guard Chris Stephens and 6-7 senior forward Larry Lee.

Raymond has a 25-6 record after a 72-43 victory over Lawrence County Saturday night in the second round of the 4A playoffs at Raymond. Raymond – riding a 15-game winning streak – plays Bay High Wednesday in the 4A quarterfinals at Pearl River Community College in Perkinston. If the Rangers win, they will play Monday at 8:30 p.m. against the Clarksdale-Pontotoc winner in the 4A semifinals at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. All of Raymond’s losses came against bigger schools, two-time 6A defending state champion Clinton, 6A Olive Branch, 6A Murrah, 5A Ridgeland, 5A Provine and Tennessee private school powerhouse Christian Brothers from Memphis.