Never forgetting cousin's murder, North Central's Derrick Tezeno forges his own path

Danielle Allentuck
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

In a crowded gym 45 minutes outside of Lafayette, Derrick Tezeno stands in his own bubble.

It's senior night at North Central, and everyone is there to see Tezeno, the only soon-to-be graduating basketball player on the team. His family sits proudly in the stands, taking up almost an entire section of the bleachers.

Some of them done the blue and white Hurricane alumni jackets. His father, whom he shares a name with, and uncle both played for North Central. His older brother and sister did as well.

WATCH:North Central boys basketball defeats Peabody

None, though, had the opportunity to play college basketball like Tezeno will. 

Tezeno has already established himself as the best player in school history. On Jan. 29, he’ll pick a college to play for from his growing list of offers. It'll be the biggest signing North Central has ever had. 

The day will be one to remember for Tezeno and his family. But the date he’s selected carries an even bigger significance for them.

'Losing someone like that is tragic'

Tezeno spent his childhood practicing at a park next to his house in Melville, a town of about 1,000 people. It wasn’t long before Tezeno was outplaying adults more than twice his age.  

"They didn't take it easy on me," he said. "It was competitive every game."

Other times, Tezeno and his family would take to the backyard. They would set up a bucket as a hoop, and play until the grass turned to dirt. 

Derrick Tezeno dribbles during practice on Jan. 7

His cousin Travon Edwards was almost always there, competing against him. Edwards brought the energy, Tezeno said, and had an unyielding passion for the game.

They lived down the street from each other, and spent almost every night sleeping over at each other’s houses. Tezeno's mother, Natonia Goudeau, recalls that they didn't actually do much sleeping. They were always playing. 

Until one day, Edwards didn’t make it home.

Edwards was murdered on Jan. 29, 2016, when he was just 14 years old. His body was found in a wooded area outside of Melville. Two teenagers were arrested and charged in his death.

"We did so many things together," Tezeno said. "Losing someone like that is tragic."

"He had a lot of respect for me and I had a lot of respect for him," he added. "Things happen for a reason. I can’t question God's work."

It’s been almost five years since Edwards’ death, and Tezeno said he still thinks about his cousin often. He had the date inscribed on his class ring, so he's reminded of it every time he looks down. 

On Jan.29, Tezeno will be dedicating his commitment ceremony to Edwards. As he makes the next step in his playing career, Tezeno wants to honor the memory of the person who helped him get there. 

"It bothered him," Goudeau said. "In a young man, they really don't like to show emotion but he talked about a whole lot. Something tragic happened on that day. To live on his life and remember that he made a big decision on that day, I think is very special." 

‘It has to be perfect'

One day this past summer, Tezeno stood on the court alone and attempted over 800 shots. He estimates he made at least 500 of them. 

"It has to be perfect or I’ll be up all night," he said. "I just really tried to come into the season and be a brand new player."

Derrick Tezeno dunks during practice.

At 6-foot-4, his previous coaches automatically made him a center, the position typically reserved for the biggest player on the team. But Hurricanes new coach Chris Cane believed  Tezeno was a better fit inside as a guard or forward.

"When I first got there, Derrick was so unselfish," Cane said. "He was just passing the ball, passing the ball, passing the ball."

Tezeno spent the summer learning to play his new role. He called Cane often, pestering him with questions. He added extra workouts and immersed himself in film. 

"I’ve been around basketball a very long time," Cane said. "He’s probably the hardest worker that I’ve seen and the best teammates I’ve seen."

Derrick Tezeno with coach Chris Cane

Tezeno is averaging six more points a game than he did last season, when he led North Central to its second straight Class 1A state championship. Last month, he scored 51 points, a parish record, shattering his previous  best of 37.

Gaining traction

North Central is surrounded on all sides by farm land. The school has less than 200 students, most hailing from the surrounding small towns. 

Getting competition to come to North Central is a challenge because teams aren’t willing to travel that far to play a 1A team.

"There is a lot of talent this way, but because of where we are located it's hard for people to actually see the talent we have out here," Tezeno said. "We want to show people that a small country town actually has athletes."

Derrick Tezeno, with his teammates behind him.

His recruiting started off slow because of the lack of exposure, even though he also plays on an AAU team and is one of the top-ranked players in the state.

A spark was lit after that 51-point game. Video of him dunking over opponents made its way to Twitter, where it was picked up by accounts with hundreds of thousand followers. Soon, Cane’s phone was ringing with college coaches eager to find out more. 

Tezeno has offiers from over eight schools, including Stephen F. Austin Northwestern State, Southern Miss and UC Santa Barbara. Georgetown, Houston, Arkansas and Ole Miss have expressed interest in the past month. 

Leaving a legacy

After a practice last month, Cane looked around and was shocked at what he saw: almost every player was still out on the court. 

He expected to see Tezeno, who always stays afterwards to get extra work in. But this was the first time Cane had noticed others, particularly underclassmen, doing the same as Tezeno. 

"That's all because of him," Cane said. 

Tezeno is so quiet that his coaches used to beg him to speak up. The impact he's had on younger players, though, is loud and clear. 

"They see him getting all the college scholarships," assistant coach Rayvon Gray said. "They want to do what he does."

Derrick Tezeno, second from left, lines up next to his teammates.

Tezeno will be the last of his generation to play for the Hurricanes. His two younger siblings are not able to play because they have sickle cell disease, but they are still big supporters of the team. 

When considering what college to pick, Tezeno initially wanted to pick a school nearby so that he could be close to family. Now, he said, he wants to bring his family with him on this journey. 

"There's a bigger world than just this small town," Tezeno said. "It's my pride and joy, but I really want to have my family see that it is bigger than just here."