Ironton coach, players in all-star game
HUNTINGTON -- It's one thing to game plan for a Division III semifinal game in the Ohio High School State Basketball Tournament.
It's another to devise a plan for two all-star games.
Ironton High School boys basketball coach Mark LaFon admits he's much more at ease for the latter assignment than he was three weeks ago when Ironton lost to Ottawa Glandorf, 61-60 in overtime, in the tense semifinal contest at Ohio State's Value City Arena in Columbus.
"I'm going to enjoy these couple of games," LaFon said Thursday while driving to the Cincinnati area where he'll serve as an assistant coach for Ohio in the 22nd annual Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Basketball Game scheduled Saturday night at Thomas Moore College's Convocation Center in Crestview Hills, Ky. (10 minutes from Cincinnati). "The pressure's not as great. It's not like having to come up with a scouting report for the next day."
Two forces on the Ironton team will get coaching from LaFon one more time Saturday. They are 5-9 point guard Zac Carter and 6-6 forward Trey Fletcher. Next Saturday, LaFon will coach Carter for the final time in the Ohio North-South All-Star Game at Capital University in Columbus.
Carter averaged more than 24 points a game and Fletcher hit at a 20.5 clip and grabbed 7.2 rebounds per game to lead the Fighting Tigers to a 23-3 record. Carter made first-team All-Ohio Division III and Fletcher made third team. The numbers and record explain why LaFon was voted the Buckeye State's Division III coach of the year.
"Zac for two more weekends. I'm excited about it," LaFon said. "I hope him and Trey take advantage of it. It'll be nice for all three of us."
When the Fighting Tigers had that team meeting prior to the first practice in October, LaFon made it clear the goal was to make it to the Final Four in Columbus.
"High expectations? Yes," LaFon said. "That was our only goal. I told this group if we fell short, it would be an extreme disappointment."
Carter said he owed his success to the coaches he's played for and worked under. One is Oak Hill's Norm Persin. LaFon was an assistant at Chesapeake when Persin was head coach there. It so happens he was riding to this assignment with Persin, who's on the Ohio selection committee for this game.
"I've been fortunate and very blessed," LaFon said. "When I started coaching I was around good people. That's why I'm where I am today. I've had mentors, I'm riding with one right now (Persin). To be able to do things like this is nice. It takes good players and teams to be selected for those honors, not one person. I hope I can keep that perspective all the way through."
LaFon remembers well the final 56 seconds when Ironton had a 54-48 lead, only to see Ottawa Glandorf to rally to tie the at 55-55 on a layup by Matt Kaufman with one second left. Then T.J. Metzger made the second of two free throws with one second left in OT to give Ottawa-Glandorf the win.
"Obviously great heartbreak and disappointment," LaFon said. "I've replayed that rebound (turnover by Fletcher with 43 seconds to go) a million times. I wish we made better decisions. I wish I could've made one call the last minute to stop the bleeding. You're coaching in a public school. The whole thing is you try to help these young men grow while they play basketball. You want to win. You see who they grew up over a two-, three-year span, that's special."
LaFon will have one more area player to coach. Chesapeake's Javon Thompson has been added to the Ohio roster.
Two games in the event billed as "The Battle at the Border" are scheduled Saturday. The girls will play at 5:30 and the boys at 7:30 p.m. Teams had their first practice Thursday. A second is scheduled Friday followed by the Slam Jam All-Star Night of Stars at 7 p.m. Events are 1-on-1, 3-on-3, 3-point shooting and slam dunk contests.
In the series, Ohio has a 14-7 lead in boys and Kentucky's advantage in girls is 12-8.