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Attempting to fill the shoes of a coaching legend is never easy, but first-year Lee Central High School boys basketball head coach Xavier Harry has somehow managed to find himself in an enviable position as the Stallions move into the new season.
Harry replaces Laverne Knox, who retired after with a 521-274 career record in 31 seasons at both Mount Pleasant and Lee Central. Knox was inducted into the South Carolina Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame earlier this year after winning two state titles at Lee Central, and finishing runner-up twice.
"I've known Coach Knox for years," said Harry. "I've had the opportunity to learn from him as a player and as a coach. He's a man of great integrity; he's always showed class no matter what, and that's one of the things I've tried to take from him and learn from him."
Knox did Harry a big favor, turning the program over at a point where it may very well be on the verge of its next state title run.
Lee Central finished 19-5 last season, losing to Southside Christian 62-58 in the second round of the 2A state playoffs. The team lost four seniors, including Javonte McCloud, one of its leading scorers. However, their two leading scorers are back in sophomore guard LeBron Thomas and junior guard DaVeon Thomas, and they'll be joined by four seniors whom Harry expects to see take on bigger roles in the upcoming season.
"We're looking for guys like Darius Perry, Kentrell Holloman, and Delonzo Perkins to step up and fill the void that (McCloud) left," said Harry. "We have the luxury of having a 2-point-guard system. So either LeBron or DeVeon can get the ball and run the offense, so that's a plus for what we're trying to do."
Harry's familiarity with the team as an assistant coach for the past two seasons means the program won't have to undergo any sort of major systemic overhaul, just a few minor tweaks.
"I knew a lot of the players even before they got to Lee Central," said Harry. "It does make the transition easier, to come from being a 2-year assistant coach to sliding into the head coaching role. We've kept some things and there are some things we've revamped. We're going to be a more up-and-down team. We're going to stress transition offense as well as transition defense. We're also going to try to throw different things at (opponents) so they don't get comfortable with what we're doing. That's what we've been stressing You always want to keep the opposing team off balance."
Those minor tweaks have already produced major results this season.
The Stallions began their season at last week's Turkey Shootout at West Florence, beating Latta 80-38 and Marlboro County 63-58 before falling to Darlington 61-55 in the championship game. DeVeon Thomas averaged 24.3 points per gamet, scoring 31 points in the semifinal game against Marlboro County.
"The future is bright if the guys can continue to stay humble and continue to work hard every day. I feel like we should have a pretty great season. If we continue to build upon what we've started and continue to trust the process, stay disciplined and play as a team, we'll be alright."
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