Big day for LaGrange basketball family
By Kevin Eckleberry
LAGRANGE – The LaGrange Grangers were one of the state’s best basketball teams last season, and the seniors were a big reason why.
There were eight seniors on the team, and seven of them were either starters or key contributors off the bench.
The eighth senior, Jalen Wilson, was unable to play because of an injury.
On Wednesday afternoon, five of those seniors got together in the LaGrange High media center for a ceremony as they signed their college letters of intent.
Quez Jackson (Southeast Community College), DJ Cooley (Southeast Community College), Gabe Duckett (Greenville College), Bryan Fanning (Wallace Community College) and Kenan Gray (Wallace Community College) were joined by family members, friends, teammates and coaches as they announced their college destinations.
Earlier this year, two other seniors on the team signed their letters of intent.
LaPerion Perry is going to play football and basketball at West Georgia, and Wilson will play football at Kentucky Wesleyan.
Jarious Freeman hasn’t signed yet, but LaGrange head coach Mark Veal said he’ll make his college decision in the coming weeks.
Those players helped the Grangers go 26-4, win a region championship, and reach the quarterfinals of the Class AAAA state tournament.
“We’ll have all eight of seniors that will go to college in some aspect or another,” Veal said. “We’re never going to forget this senior class. They had tremendous careers.”
Veal said each of the players dedicated themselves to achieving success on the court, and in the class room.
“One thing I’ve been hitting on is, what can basketball do for you?,” Veal said. “And basketball is going to give them an opportunity to have a free education, and keep playing basketball, which they love.”
Two of the cornerstones of last season’s team were Fanning and Gray, who helped LaGrange control things inside.
The two 6-foot-6 post players received numerous attentions from colleges across the country.
“I think they had about 80 colleges that were interested in them,” Veal said.
The two decided to go the junior-college route, and they’ll be teammates at Wallace Community College in Alabama.
“I just felt so comfortable with the coaches,” Fanning said. “I felt like a part of the family. They called me every day.”
The opportunity to play in college has been a long-time goal for Fanning and Gray.
“It means a lot, to be able to keep playing, to play at the next level and go to college,” Gray said.
After one or two seasons, they’ll each have a chance to move on to a four-year program.
“I want to do a good job here, move on to a bigger program,” Fanning said.
Jackson and Cooley will also remain teammates.
LaGrange High has had a number of players in recent years go to Southeast Community College in Nebraska, and Jackson and Cooley will continue that trend.
“It’s a big step for me to be playing at the next level,” Jackson said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Cooley’s role on the team increased dramatically for his senior season, and he made enough of an impression to earn a basketball scholarship.
“It means a lot. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Cooley said. “Last year honestly, I didn’t think I’d do it. I worked hard to get out there.”
Duckett said he did a lot of research, and he decided Greenville College in Illinois was the place for him.
“I wanted to find an environment that was comfortable, family-based,” Duckett said. “I have family up there was well. They’re an hour away. So I’ll have everybody come to my games and be supportive. And also I’ll be getting an education. I think it’s one of the top schools on the Forbes list as far as education. It’s one of those schools, where I know it’s the right fit.”
Duckett said he’s proud for all of his fellow seniors who are college-bound.
“It feels good to know that all the seniors are signing,” Duckett said. “We have goals after high school. That’s a good thing for all of us.”
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