By all accounts, LaVerne Knox is a humble man of few words who normally shies away from the spotlight.
There was no hiding from the spotlight for Knox on Tuesday.
As the final seconds wound down on his Lee Central varsity boys basketball …
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As the final seconds wound down on his Lee Central varsity boys basketball team's 81-45 beatdown of Central at the LC gymnasium, Knox finally rose from his seat on the bench to smile and acknowledge the chants and cheers of the LC faithful in reference to Knox's 500th coaching victory.
"It was a special moment," said Knox, who holds a 500-268 record and a .651 winning percentage. "It makes you feel good that the fans support you, and I appreciate the fans of Lee County for their support. It made me feel real good."
Even with family and a number of former players on hand expecting to take in history, Knox said he tried to treat this game just as any other. Still, Knox joked, with commemorative t-shirts on hand and a ceremony planned for after the game, he knew losing was not an option.
"It was a little different, because you wanted to get that 500th win, but I tried to treat it the same as any other game and stress the important things we need to work on before the game in order to be successful -- boxing up, cutting out and playing hard, those such things," Knox said. "I told my wife (Joann), about those t-shirts, we put (the box) in the restroom in my office. I didn't want to jinx myself, but I felt pretty good toward the end."
"He was very solemn, very solemn. Didn't have much to say," said Joann, Knox's wife of 32 years, of her husband's pregame mindset. "'We're going to do it by God's help,' and that was it. He doesn't like too much attention drawn on him, but he did well. I felt a lot better (with the quick start and wide victory margin) because we had a lot invested in tonight. A lot of our relatives and church members came, from far and near, and his old players."
The post-game celebration included a cake, a special encased Lee Central 500 jersey presented to Knox and a basketball commemorating the event given by the Lee Central Middle School basketball program.
"It's been a challenge but it's been enjoyable," said Joann, who was right by her husband's side during his celebration. "We put first things first, but this is something he enjoys, so I respect that. But on the weekends he's always still a father and a husband. He really loves it (coaching) from the bottom of his heart. I love him and it's been a challenge, but never a dull moment."
As is often the case in families of coaches, Knox has a son, Brad, who picked up the coaching bug at an early age and is now making his way up the coaching ranks. After leading Darlington's varsity girls to a 52-19 home win over Lugoff-Elgin on Thursday, Brad made it to LC in time for his father's victory celebration.
"As a young child, I'm thankful for a mentor, first off," said the 25-year-old Lady Falcons head coach. "I think one of the things that he instilled in me was to always work hard, and to give it everything that you have. I used to go to basketball practice, football practice as a young boy. I always wanted to go, always asked, 'Dad, where are you going?' and he always said I'm going to practice and I said well I'm going, too. Late nights, staying up watching film with him, giving the guys points, as I do now for my girls, it just was a great opportunity and a great experience. I always knew I really wanted to get into it. That's the only thing I knew. At times, eating dinner, I'm watching film, and my mom used to get on me all the time -- cut that tape off, cut that tape off! It was just a blessing and an opportunity, and I'm just ready to take advantage of any opportunity."
While Brad was obviously proud of his father on Tuesday, Knox said he could tell from one of those long ago game film sessions that coaching was in Brad's future.
"One night I was at the table, grading papers and he was looking at game film," Knox said of a 12-year-old Brad. "He said, 'James Boone, you've got to play better defense than that!' I looked at him and I was surprised, but he loves detail. He's a good coach, and he's going to be one of the great ones to come through."
Like her husband, Joann shares an immense pride in Brad following in his father's footsteps as a coach and called Brad becoming a head coach at age 25 "a very big accomplishment." Both Brad and older brother Brent, who lives in Florida and could not make the trip for Tuesday's game, played for their father in the Stallion program.
While Brent could not be at the game, his 2-year-old son Braylen provided a memorable moment by taking his grandfather's commemorative basketball out of its loose casing and dribbling downcourt with it. Also on hand were Knox's daughter Verneshea Robinson and 12-year-old granddaughter Kawaii, who made the trip from Columbia.
Knox's team took the drama out of this game early, opening on a 10-0 run and leading 27-10 at the end of the opening quarter. The last time the Eagles trailed by single digits came at the 4:24 mark of the first quarter, when Robert Price, who scored 12 to lead Central, hit his second of three treys on the night to cut the lead to 15-6.
A 10-0 run to close the half put the Stallions up 45-19 at the break, with a 21-point third quarter stretching LC's lead to 66-37 heading to the final quarter. The lead peaked at 38, 79-41, late in the fourth quarter, with Daquan Thomas scoring 13 and Deveon Thomas adding 10 to lead the way for the Stallions. Amadric Mixon hit three treys for nine points, with Treson Pringle chipping in nine and Kaquan Simon closing with eight.
"They played well tonight," Knox said. "I was concerned about the third quarter, and coming out of halftime. We usually play a good first half but we usually have a little bit of a slow third quarter coming out of halftime. Tonight we came out a whole lot better in the third quarter. At their place (in a 52-50 victory on Jan. 24) we only scored three points in the third quarter."
Knox's team was hit with the flu bug prior to that first meeting with Central and only had nine players available that night. That game was also a makeup from an earlier postponement due to winter weather.
While 500 wins is a big accomplishment in the coaching ranks, Knox is still not the winningest coach at his school. That honor belongs, of course, to Lady Stallions head coach Dorothy Fortune, who entered what she has said will be her final season at LC with 761 coaching victories. On Tuesday, Fortune was more than happy to share the spotlight with Knox.
"Coach Knox deserves it," said Fortune, who, like Knox on the boys side, is the only varsity girls coach in the school's 18-year history. "He's a hard worker, and he wants things to be right. We kind of grew up the same way, from the old school, you know, where you're going to do it the right way or you're not going to do it at all, and I'm just so happy for him. He deserves all of the spotlight. He gets the best out of his players, and he doesn't put up with a lot of nitpicking kind of stuff. He's a true gentleman, and ever since I've known him he's always tried to treat people the right way, and in return hoped that they would treat him the right way. He works hard at his job and at his craft, and he cares for his children that play for him, and children in general."
Fortune called Knox "a person that you can depend on" and "just an all-around good fellow." As an example of Knox's dependability, Fortune told of times that Knox has looked out for her team when Fortune could not be at practices or games. Fortune said the two, who have coached together dating back to their time at Mount Pleasant High School before that school's merger with Bishopville High School to form Lee Central, have even shuffled practice times to accommodate scouting trips and other individual coaching demands.
"Coach Fortune's a good person to work along with," Knox said. "Easy to get along with, and she stresses defense, for the girls to do their best, and I do the same thing for the boys. We encourage each other."
Knox still has fond memories of his greatest stretch as head coach of the Stallions. Knox led Lee Central to four consecutive 2A state championship games, beginning with the 2003-04 season. The Stallions won the titles in 2005-06 and 2006-07, finishing with records of 21-6 and 25-4, respectively.
"A lot of good players came through here, good people, and a lot of them are doing well," Knox said. "I'm just happy just to be able to work with them. We have an outstanding community that loves the sport of basketball. We have a crew that follows every game. The community support during that week going to the state championship game (stands out). We had tremendous support from the community. I kind of miss that (playing in state championship games). I'm ready to go back."
While Knox was noncommital on just how much longer he will be will be on the sidelines for the Stallions, Fortune still has plenty of confidence in Knox's ability to add to his win total.
"He's got 500," Fortune said. "I don't know how much longer he's going to be (coaching), but he could probably get a lot more if he decides to stay."
Now that the quest for 500 is done, Knox can turn his attention to taking the Stallions, who stand at 18-3 overall and 10-0 in Region IV-2A, as far as possible in the playoffs.
"Next game," Knox said of his focus after Tuesday. "We want to finish this region undefeated. We have Cheraw (on the road) on Friday night and AJ (Andrew Jackson, at home) on Tuesday. We just want to finish undefeated and go on from there, take it one game at a time."
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