The 2017-18 high school basketball season ended for Bossier High standout guards Jacoby Decker and Kaalas Roots with a heartbreaking 80-78 loss to McDonogh 35 in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs on March 2 in New Orleans.
But the duo hasn’t spent much time off the court since then.
Decker, the All-Parish MVP, and Roots, a first-team selection, joined Louisiana Select Team Millsap, an amateur travel team program comprised of elite talent from around the state, not long after the season ended.
Starting in April, Team Millsap has traveled to tournaments in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and New York City with a trip to Orlando, Fla., coming up.
Decker and Roots, both rising seniors, are veterans of Team Millsap. Decker has been in the program since his days at Rusheon Middle School. This is Roots’ third year.
In addition to Team Millsap, Decker and Roots have joined their Bossier teammates for Summer League games once a week at Bossier in June. The league wrapped up play Monday. The Bearkats have also gone to a couple of team camps.
On June 18, Bossier defeated 2018 Class 5A semifinalist Natchitoches Central and District 1-4A rival Woodlawn. Bossier and Woodlawn shared the district title last season, and the Knights went on to finish state runner-up.
Last season, Bossier finished 27-7 with five of the losses by two points. Decker said the Summer League games and camps helped Bossier prepare to make another run at the state championship.
“It’s going well,” he said after the Bearkats defeated Woodlawn. “We just have to start getting together as a team, playing as a team, and get to know each other’s roles. I feel like we’re going to get there. It’s just taking time. Once we get together as a team, I feel like we can win state.”
Roots said the games have given the Bearkats a look at some of the competition they’ll be up against this season.
“It just gives us a feel for all the other teams, see what they have, what we need to work on and see our weaknesses, all the offenses and coordination that we need to have, the chemistry we need to have as a team,” he said. “It just helps going different places and being with the team. It builds team chemistry.”
Playing for Louisiana Select Team Millsap’s 17-under team gives the duo an opportunity to go up against some of the best players in the country.
Team Millsap won the silver championship in the Rumble in the Bronx in New York earlier this month. Decker scored 26 points in the championship game victory over Iowa-based Martin Brothers. He 17 points and Roots 14 in a semifinal win.
Airline rising senior guard T.J. Robinson, another first-team All-Parish selection, also plays for Team Millsap.
Decker is only 5-foot-7, but he hasn’t let that stop him from excelling. He can drive the lane and score or draw fouls against much taller players. Last season, he averaged 18.6 points, 4.5 assists and 3.0 steals.
Playing for Team Millsap, he is getting even more experience against taller players.
“Playing against different people, taller people, helps a lot,” he said. “I’m short so I have to finish through taller people, get in the lane, hit shots. After a while you get used to playing against bigger people. Then it gets easier as you go on.”
Roots said he has become a much better overall player because of the competition and quality of players in the big tournaments.
“It helps me with my skill, working on different things like ball handling, shooting, seeing the game, and making sure we’re good guards for our team,” he said.
“Down here, we don’t see many 6-7 guys that are just guards. You go there and you see 6-7 guards. You just see a lot of competition and you see you have to work harder.”
Team Millsap, sponsored by former Louisiana Tech and current NBA star Paul Millsap, is coached by Calvary head coach Vic Morris and longtime area referee and amateur coach Mike Theus.
The summer tournaments give the players a chance to show college recruiters what they can do. While college coaches weren’t able to attend the Rumble in the Bronx because of NCAA rules, Decker’s performance didn’t go unnoticed.
“Phone has been blowing up about @SelectMillsap 2019 PG @jacoby_decker after his performance at The RUMBLE in the BRONX Tourney this past weekend,” Morris wrote in a Facebook post.
Decker, who has received an offer from Grambling State, said his recruiting is “going well.” He’s grateful to Morris for his help.
“I’m happy with coach Vic,” he said. “He talks good about me to a lot of coaches and I really appreciate that. He’s always pushing me and he wants me to be great, so I look up to him.”
Roots averaged 12 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals last season, and Morris has also promoted him as a Division I prospect.
Theus has been a longtime advocate of local players. He is a coach during the spring and summer and a referee during the high school season.
He sometimes officiates his players’ games, and Roots said Theus’ officiating has come up in a joking way.
“We always mess with him,” he said. “Sometimes he’ll referee us and we’ll mess with him and say, ‘Coach, you didn’t give me this call,’ and he’ll joke back with us. Coach Theus is a good coach. He knows the game of basketball well. That helps us a lot.”
Besides basketball, Theus makes sure the players have time to experience other things during their travels that will help make them better people. The National September 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan is just one historic site the team has visited.
Both Decker and Roots said they have enjoyed the travel over the years.
“New York’s a beautiful city; Houston’s a beautiful city,” Roots said. “Just going out and seeing things, things you don’t always see down here, seeing street shows in New York, different things going on in Atlanta.
“It’s an awesome experience. It gives us an aspect on history because for those guys it’s not only to be better basketball players, it’s to be better people, too.”
Decker said the the only thing he could do without is the waiting in airports.
“We always go a little sight-seeing, make sure we get to see things,” he said. “It’s fun.”
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com