Scotlandville was nearing the conclusion of Sunday’s final full-fledged workout in preparation for the Top 28 tournament when coach Carlos Sample’s voice boomed throughout an empty gymnasium.
Sample questioned the decision made by freshman guard Ja’Vonte Smart to pass up a wide-open jump shot in favor of getting the ball inside where it was knocked out of bounds.
Within a second of the last echo of Sample’s baritone voice, Smart, bent over and clutching his knees, found the reassuring voice and ever-present smile of senior LaMarcus Lee next to him.
Lee, barely speaking above audible, conveyed Sample’s exact message but from a different perspective — that of a teammate and caring leader — and turned it into a teaching moment for the talented rookie.
“He’s done a good job of being the only senior and being the leader,” Sample said of Lee. “He’s been groomed into that role by the guys before him. He saw those guys and followed suit and jumped right into their shoes.”
Quite literally, right after Natchitoches Central ended Scotlandville’s bid for a third straight Class 5A state championship, the 2014-15 season got underway, and the eventual path of the program was tied to the direction Lee would take it.
In years past, Scotlandville had the luxury of depending on senior classes made up of a collection of different talents and personalities entrusted by Sample to show the way — both on and off the court — to try and ensure future success.
That No. 3 Scotlandville (31-4) finds itself in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSA Boys Top 28 tournament for a sixth straight year is a testament to many factors from coaching to chemistry but arguably none larger than the one the 6-foot Lee has played.
The Hornets meet No. 7 Byrd in Class 5A semifinal action Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.
“It’s like they handed me a baton, and know I had to carry the stick,” Lee said of last year’s seniors. “Once people see you and they like seeing what you do, it becomes something they want to do. I just make sure I do the right thing and try and lead them in the right direction like the other guys did for me.”
Lee rattled off names such as Damien Jones (now at Vanderbilt) Trelun Banks (now at Southern) and Brian Bridgewater (now at LSU) as predecessors who established the type of example he wanted to emulate and later hand down.
The example set this season by Lee, a 3.0 student, has been an exemplary one, not only leading Scotlandville in scoring with a 17.5 average but is second in rebounds (8.0), leads in assists (4.0) and steals (3.0).
Moreover, Lee signed last November with Tennessee-Chattanooga.
“On the court, he knows we have to follow his lead for us to be a complete team,” Sample said. “He’s pretty vocal in the locker room, but on the floor, he leads by example. The team feeds off of him.”
Lee, who will appear in his third Top 28, is realistic when it comes to discussing his role in Scotlandville’s state semifinal, conceding more of his energy will be spent on defense.
That’s where Lee will oppose Byrd’s top scorer, 6-3 guard Chad Lott, and the impact of that matchup could have a significant bearing on the game’s outcome.
Style points no longer matter, though, only helping Scotlandville erase the sting of last year’s 60-53 title game loss and bring home a third state crown in four years which would also cement Lee’s legacy.
“I never felt the way losing a state championship felt until last year, and I didn’t like it,” Lee said. “It would mean everything to win another one. I would be the first at Scotlandville to have three rings, and that’s what I would hand down.”