Photo by Chris Todd

By Robert Wilson

       Raymond High boys basketball coach Tony Tadlock is one of eight finalists for the National High School Boys Basketball Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletics Coaches Association.

       The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony July 27 at Lincoln, Nebraska.

       Tadlock led Raymond to the MSHAA Class 4A state runner-up finish and a 27-7 record this past season. It was the Rangers’ seventh consecutive time to make to the state championship game, the sixth straight by Tadlock.

       The 34-year-old Pearl High and Southern Miss graduate has a 161-37 record (an outstanding 81.3 winning percentage), three state titles and three state runner-up finishes in six seasons at Raymond.

       “It’s a tremendous honor to be in the conversation as National Coach of the Year,” Tadlock said. “I’m fortunate to have great players, a great staff and a supportive community that help make us who we are. The goal seven years ago was to be the premier program in the state, and I believe we are there now. Being able to represent Raymond High School in Lincoln, Nebraska is a huge honor for me. I wear Raymond with great pride and I’m excited about the opportunity to be surrounded by the best in the country.”

       The only Mississippi coach to receive National Boys Basketball Coach of the Year was legendary Gulfport High coach Bert Jenkins, who won the award four times (1965, 1970, 1976 and 1989). Jenkins, who passed away in 2015, won 866 games and seven state titles and had a 82.8 winning percentage in 28 seasons.

Tadlock’s 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.

       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 title in five seasons last year. Tadlock, who doubles as an assistant principal, was named the Region III Boys Basketball Coach of the Year this 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 be 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.”

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 past 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 had seven former players playing college this past season and sent 14 over the past five years to college programs and had two more who have played college baseball and one college football.

       “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 finished 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.”

       “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 had to replace four starters – including his top three scorers – from the 2022 state championship team to make another run to the state title game.

Raymond won 17 consecutive games before losing 53-43 to Yazoo City in the 4A state title game this season. Raymond’s other six 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.

      “It was unique watching the team grow up throughout the season,” Tadlock said. “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 has the makings of another state championship team this next season, led by one of the top big men in the South, 6-foot-9 senior forward EJ Peymon. Peymon – who was named the Mississippi Association of Coaches Class 4A State Player of the Year last season – averaged 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, Oral Roberts, and Morehead State.

       Tadlock has two other starters returning (senior guard Keymarius Lewis and senior guard Chris Stephens). In addition, talented 6-4 senior forward Mekhi Strong has transferred from MacArthur High in Texas. Strong went to Raymond until the ninth grade before moving to Texas.

       “We have had a great summer,” Tadlock said. “I love this team. I’m expecting to have one of the best teams since I’ve been at Raymond.”

       Tadlock is the son of the late Tony Tadlock Sr. and Holly Clark. Tadlock’s father was a fire fighter in Flowood and passed away fighting a fire on Easter Sunday, 1988. He has a plaque in his memory at the fire station on Lakeland Drive near Jackson Prep. Tadlock’s dad was the first white football player at Jackson State in the 1970s and played with NFL Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Jackie Slater. Tadlock’s mother was pregnant with Tadlock when his father passed away. Tadlock’s mother passed away in 2015. Tadlock’s grandparents, Ralph and Jean Tadlock of Pearl, helped raise him. Tadlock is an only child.

       “I hope to carry on the legacy of my dad,” Tadlock said. “He was a great man, and everyone knew him. I hope he is proud of me and of what I have become.”