It is not too often that a father and a son enjoy playing athletics at the collegiate level. It is even more rare that the tradition expands to a third generation. However, that has happened in our area this year when Saint Stanislaus College senior Luke Ladner signed a National Letter of Intent to play basketball with the Wolf Pack of Loyola University of New Orleans on Wednesday, May 15th.
The younger Ladner's grandfather, Larry, was Hancock County's first ever All-State selection on the hardwood back in the mid-1950s at Kiln Consolidated High School before playing collegiately at PRCC and Louisiana College. He later went to a Hall of Fame coaching career at Picayune Memorial High School and then helped pioneer the nation's first Department of Coaching and Sports Administration degree program at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The eldest Ladner was followed by Luke's father, Jay, who starred in baseball and basketball at Oak Grove High School before playing collegiate basketball at USM and was a member of the 1987 NIT championship team. Jay went on to a distinguished high school coaching career at SSC where he racked up over 500 wins and the 2011 Class 4A state championship. Later, Jay coached Jones County Junior College to the 2014 national championship before taking his coaching talent to Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond where he has been the last five years. At SELA, Ladner led the Lions to the 2018 regular season championship and a berth in the NIT. About three weeks ago, Jay Ladner was named the head coach at USM.
Now, the basketball stage belongs to Luke Ladner who has built himself into a star in his own right.
Luke Ladner commented, "I guess one could say I was born into the game of basketball. My family has a long history with the sport. I have been extremely blessed with the opportunity to continue to play the game that I love at the next level and to be able to carry on a family tradition. I wake up each day wanting to get better. I love the grind."
Ladner has excelled both in school and on the court to get to this point. He is a class representative to the Student Council, chair of the Campus Ministry team, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, two-year captain of the basketball team and a member of the National Honor Society.
On the court, the younger Ladner has been a two-time first team selection for All-Division 8-4A, a three-year letter winner, a two-time PRCC All-Star, two-time South All-Star, a member of the All-South Mississippi team in 2019, the 2019 KSA Orlando Tournament MVP, the Curtis St. Mary Award recipient as a junior and the Mr. Rock-a-chaw Award recipient as a senior. In 2019, Ladner averaged 13 points, four assists, six rebounds and two steals per game.
SSC head coach Aaron Dunklin, who prepped as SSC under Jay Ladner, stated, "I couldn't be prouder of a young man I've seen grow by leaps and bounds from a mental, physical and leadership standpoint. He has represented the school, his teammates and his family in an exemplary way. We will definitely be praying for his future success in his endeavors on and off the court."
Ladner's endeavors are not limited to just the classroom or basketball court. He even found time to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, King's Kitchen, Humane Society, and the Boys and Girls Club.
And to reflect how selfless Ladner truly is, he turned 18 on March 6th and instead of gifts or tokens, he requested that donations be made to "No Kid Hungry." His selfless act resulted in donations exceeding $1,000 dollars.
Luke's father, USM head coach Jay Ladner, stated, "I could not be prouder of him. There is only a small percentage of student athletes that get an opportunity to continue playing at the next level. This is a reward for the hard work that he has put in both in the classroom and on the court. Over the course of the last few years, he has begun to put in the hard work necessary to put himself in a position to receive this opportunity. I am most proud of how he has been challenged and become successful at an outstanding school such as Saint Stanislaus College and the type of young man he has become. The school prides itself on developing 'Men of Character' and he has become one of them. I hate that he is leaving SSC but everyone has to move on in their journey. He has great memories to reflect on and he is ready for this next step."
Luke Ladner ended, "I am looking forward to beginning this next chapter. Playing at a school where my friends and family could see me play was not a major factor but it worked out in the end in that favor. My time at SSC has been both a blessing and a challenge. There was a lot that was expected of me at SSC and it was my choice to attend SSC. It is where I belong and what I call home. I was meant to be there and would not trade it for anything. I am most grateful to Coach Aaron Dunklin and Coach Grady Willis who came through the program before me. They have helped resurrect the program and I am thankful to be a part of that. I am thankful to my friends and family for all their support through the years. I am ready to get to work."
Ladner is expected to remain in the back court playing the point or shooting guard position for the Wolf Pack. He has qualified to play as a freshman with a 25 on the ACT.
Ladner becomes the sixth SSC player to sign with Loyola in the last 25 years following Matt Kopfler (SSC '97), former SSC head cross country and track and field coach Dawson McCall (SSC '00), Brett Amond (SSC '03), Mario Faranda (SSC '04), and Rocco Gandara (SSC '10).
Loyola is a member of Southern States Athletic Conference with Stillman College, William Carey University, Bethel University, Dalton State College, Faulkner University, Middle Georgia State University, Martin Methodist College, University of Mobile, Blue Mountain College, Florida College, and Brewton-Parker College.
The Wolf Pack won the SSAC title last season with a 23-12 record and advanced to the second round of the NAIA national tournament. They fell to Arizona Christian 83-77.