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A season to remember

Leopards came a basket shy of a perfect season

Posted: February 21, 2013 4:09 p.m.
Updated: February 25, 2013 5:00 a.m.

THE LUGOFF-ELGIN MIDDLE SCHOOL Leopards posted an 11-1 record this past season. Pictured on the bottom row, from left, are Ralique Murphy, Lee Evans, Tyrese Elm, Andre Martin, DeVonte Hudson, Desmond McDuffie, Jalen Johnson and Chandler Barrett. Pictured on the back row are head coach Shawn Phipps, Darion Logan, Tirek Pate, Elliott Campbell, Bradwin Salmond, Josh Byrd and assistant coach Rob Evans.

Calendars can be very useful to coaches.
All your game nights are underlined. And, if you are having a disappointing campaign, that final contest of the season may be circled more than once as if to remind you that there will be no more practices and no more losses to endure, at least, until the start of the following season.
There were no circled dates on Shawn Phipps’ calendar this past basketball season. That tells you how well his Lugoff-Elgin Middle School boys’ basketball team played in rolling up an 11-1 mark, which was the best finish in recent memory for the Leopards.
It was, by far, the best --- not to mention one of the most enjoyable --- season(s) which Phipps has had in his 13 years at the head of the L-EMS bench. When the Leopards closed things with a 53-29 victory over rival Camden Middle School, the southern Ohio native said he was sad that he did not have more games and practices to attend.
“You have those years when you don’t want to see the season end and that you just don’t want to quit playing,” Phipps said one afternoon at Optimist Field at L-E, as he was watching his Demons’ junior varsity baseball team take a round of batting practice. “Then, you have those years where you’re looking to the end and saying, ‘Is this the last game, yet?’
“This was one of those years that I didn’t want to see come to an end and, not just because we were winning and stuff but, man, these are good kids.”
Make no mistake about it, for much of the past decade, L-EMS athletics have hung their winter season hat on being the state’s premier middle school wrestling programs. While that was happening, the Leopards’ basketball team took a back seat to Ted Monroe’s trophy-collecting mat machine.
A team player through and through, Phipps does not begrudge the wrestling team and its success in the least bit. But he is glad that his basketball squad was able to snag their share of the spotlight over the past two months.
“Wrestling’s big here,” Phipps said. “But it’s so nice to know that wherever you go to play, that you’re going to be competitive. And, it’s really nice to have a kid who is 6-foot-4 and another who is 6-foot-1.”
Elliott Campbell was the 6-foot-4 center for the Leopards who led the team in scoring with 14.5 points per game including a 30-point outburst in a one of two wins over Camden Middle School. The 6-foot-1 forward, Bradwin Salmond, was third on the team, scoring at an 11.6 per game clip. In between those players was guard Tyrese Elm who averaged 13.2 points a game.
While those three players put up big numbers, Phipps said his other two starters were equally, if not even more, important to a team whose lone setback came in a 39-38 loss at the hands of Bates Middle School out of Sumter after L-EMS won the first meeting between the two sides, in game two of the season, by three points.
“It wasn’t any ‘one-man show’ stuff,” Phipps said of his team. “We had three kids who, on any given night, could have led us in scoring. In middle school, you don’t have that, too often. They were unselfish. The two starters who didn’t score that much for us were just as crucial and dominant in doing what they were supposed to do.
“Andre Martin was my defensive specialist up front. He didn’t allow his kid to really get the opponent into their offense. If he got into foul trouble, we noticed that. We felt how valuable he was out there. And Josh Byrd was fundamentally sound underneath the basket. He could box out and could pass the ball. I get more excited about somebody making a good pass, boxing out or taking a charge than I would anything else.”
In Phipps’ opinion, that one-point loss to Bates, on a night in which the Leopards missed 26 of their 35 free throws, proved to be the turning point in the season for the West Wateree squad which beat their opponents by an average of more than 15 points per game. Phipps said that game was a wake-up call for his team which ran roughshod over all every opponent save for a Bates squad against which the Leopards had a pair of nail-biters.
L-EMS, as it has done in each of Phipps’ 13 seasons, ran a motion offense. By doing that, the players are in constant motion and can adapt to whether facing a man-to-man or, a zone defensive scheme.  What did change was the fact that with Campbell in the post, L-EMS went inside more this past season than in past years. But when defenses collapsed around Campbell, the Leopards had other options on the perimeter.
“This year, we had a big 6-foot-4 kid underneath and it would not be wise to not pound it inside, which we did,” Phipps said of the changes he made to his offensive sets. “They (officials) let the other teams push him around underneath. His point total did not do justice to what he took every night underneath the basket.”
“I remember playing Camden and saying, ‘It just isn’t fair’ because they would pack the zone in and we’d kick it out. We hit about eight or nine threes that game.”
Phipps said he had a good feeling about the 2012-13 Leopards, which had a good blend of experience and seventh-graders, all eager to make their mark. While he loses four starters, Phipps said the returning players, should they decide to come out for the team next season, provides a good nucleus for another solid season.
As much as the players were part of this year’s success story, Phipps said the support system through the years at L-EMS have made his time enjoyable. For that, he thanked athletic director Randy Stokes as well as the school’s three principals during his tenure, Billy Smith, Dan Matthews and Karen Bullard.
As invaluable as the administration is and has been, Phipps said, he cannot forget his assistant coach, Rob Evans of the Kershaw County Sherriff’s Department who is also the school’s resource officer. When his team practiced after the L-EMS’ girls team did, Phipps said he had no worries that his players were doing the right thing in the hours leading up to their hitting the floor.
 “If we had late practice, those guys would be in my classroom doing their homework and Rob was a big part of that,” Phipps said. “He would check their agendas each day to see if any of our kids were having any problems. Rob really is worth his weight in gold.”
And when it came time to practice and play in their games, the Leopards never let up or gave in. That is what Phipps will take from this 11-win campaign.
“I loved coming to practice with these kids,” he said. “They played well together. The chemistry was there; it was just a great group of kids.”


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