- Associated Press - Sunday, March 12, 2017

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - You can’t argue with the numbers - 31-0.

A undefeated season is the ultimate mark of success for any sports team.

Influencing the lives of young people is another sign of success.

That makes Ruston High School graduate Larry Cordaro, the head coach of the LSU-Alexandria men’s basketball team, a winner in all phases of life.

Cordaro’s Generals defeated Langston 90-87 recently in the Red River Conference championship game to close out an undefeated season at 31-0 and retain their No. 1 ranking heading into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Championship Tournament later this month.

Not bad for a young coach that started the program from scratch only three years ago.

Since starting up the Generals men’s basketball program Cordaro has guided his team to a record of 82-8 - that’s a .911 winning percentage.

Cordaro went 23-4 in his first season and was named Don Meyer NAIA National Coach of the Year. He also was the Red River Conference Coach of the Year and Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches small college Coach of the Year.

Last season the Generals went 29-4 and repeated as the Red River Athletic Conference regular season champion. LSUA was ranked No. 1 nationally for five weeks and advanced to the second round of the NAIA tournament, finishing No. 3 overall in the final rankings and earned more Coach of the Year honors for Cordaro.

While the Generals did fall in three close games against NCAA Division I opponents (Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State and McNeese State) this season, those losses don’t count in the NAIA record books, making LSU undefeated and this has the best campaign of all for Cordaro and his Generals.

But the young coach says winning is only one part of the being a successful leader of student athletes.

“We don’t talk about repeating,” Cordaro said. “We don’t talk about three-peating. We talk about competing.”

That’s an attitude that’s caught the attention of Jack Thigpen, who was head coach at Ruston High School when Cordaro was a guard for the Bearcats.

“I’m just so proud is the main thing,” Thigpen said of watching Cordaro’s success at LSUA. “He’s done a fabulous job. But the biggest thing I’m so proud of Larry about is not just strictly that he’s winning basketball games, but he’s influencing lives.

“He goes that extra mile and puts in that extra effort with his program to influence his players and expose them to all kinds of things to make them better people as well as players. He’s had speakers come in to talk about all kinds of things. He takes the team to church. He does all those extra little things that really will mean so much to those players after they graduate and move on with their lives.”

Thigpen said work ethic has never been a problem for Cordaro.

“Because of his stature (Cordaro stands at 5 feet, 5 inches), he was one of those players who truly always gave it everything he had,” Thigpen said. “I remember a particular game at West Ouachita when Ryan Kilpatrick was our starting guard and messed up on a couple of plays so I took him out and put Larry in. And Larry just went off.

“He scored, he got some steals and made some layups and just had a fantastic game. He’s a kid that no matter when you called on him, when you put him in a game, he was ready to give it his all. And there were some games that he didn’t play in at all because of the situations. But when he got called on, he was always ready.”

Cordaro might not look like a prototypical men’s hoops coach because of his height, but he gained plenty of playing experience coming off the bench for the Bearcats and then at Xavier University in New Orleans before he moved on to become a student coach at LSU.

“Those experiences are the reason for where I am today,” Cordaro said. “I am thankful for the opportunity Coach Jack Thigpen presented me with in being a Bearcat teammate while learning the basics of basketball. Credit Coach Thigpen and assistant Larry Hicks for exemplifying rock solid basketball foundation. A good friend of mine - Brandon James - and his father (former Grambling State basketball coach and athletics director) Aaron James connected me with Xavier head coach at the time, Dale Valdery, who introduced me to collegiate basketball. It was quite obvious that I was more effective on the sideline than on the court. Hopefully I’m a much better coach than I was a player. People remind me that (current Texas-El Paso head men’s coach) Tim Floyd didn’t set scoring records at Louisiana Tech and you see the longevity of his coaching career.”

The three years as a student coach at LSU convinced Cordaro that he was born to coach basketball.

“Those three years I spent serving as a student/graduate assistant was an invaluable once in a lifetime opportunity,” Cordaro said. “I walked into a Division 1 experience, thanks to another local connection in former Grambling Lab High School Coach Mike Lyons. Current Lincoln Preparatory School Coach Antonio Hudson was an entering freshman for the Tigers after playing high school ball under Lyons. That break in the business taught me the importance of relationships. Antonio and I have developed our friendship over the years thanks to this great sport we are blessed to coach. (Former LSU coach) John Brady taught us how to bring intensity in everything, especially competition. We also learned the importance of being organized through practice plans, scouting reports and recruiting visits.”

Aaron James agrees that Cordaro was born to be a coach.

“I’ve known Larry since he was in elementary school - he and my son grew up together,” James said. “I’ve never seen a better student of the game. He knows every high school and junior college in Louisiana and surrounding states. If I was starting a new program, I’d want him to be head coach.”

Thigpen said it was after Cordaro’s career as a Bearcat that he realized Cordaro was destined to be a coach.

“I didn’t think about it when he was playing,” Thigpen said. “But I do remember we did have a little party after his senior season (1998) ended with parents there. I remember Larry’s father Frank Cordaro coming up to me and telling me, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but Larry wants to be a coach.’ That got me to reflecting on what he did in practices and in games and looking back, I realized how attentive he was to everything. He was soaking it all in. So as I thought about that I realized that yeah, this kid could probably become a pretty good coach.”

Louisiana Tech’s men’s basketball head coach Eric Konkol admits he’s been paying attention to Cordaro’s success at LSUA.

“I had met Larry earlier and knew who he was, but when I came to Louisiana Tech and moved to Ruston, I had only been here and couple of weeks when he came over the (Thomas Assembly Center),” Konkol said. “He knew Andy Fox, who’s on my staff (director of basketball operations) and came to some of workouts. We’ve spent some time together - I saw him at the most recent (Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches) banquet and have run across him on the road. He’s a wonderful person and a great coach, and I’m thrilled for the success that he’s having.”

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Information from: Ruston Daily Leader, https://www.rustonleader.com/

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