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Carter named All-Valley Boys Basketball COY

LANETT — The Lanett High School boys basketball team did not begin its quest for a third consecutive title on Dec. 5.

That’s the day Richard Carter’s squad, depleted of talent due to the Panthers’ gridiron success, opened the season with a 14-point loss to Horseshoe Bend.

No, Lanett’s quest began months prior, when Carter engaged in a philosophy-altering conversation with coaches from Birmingham’s Mountain Brook High School.

The Spartans, winners of four state boys basketball titles since 2013, built their accomplished program on a few core concepts. One involved the implementation of a pressure defense, often applied in a full-court setting.

It had a track record of rattling opponents and forcing turnovers.

“We brought part of that principle with us this year,” said Carter, formerly the deployer of a man-to-man approach in the half court. “By incorporating that into our game plan, I think it paid dividends for us.”

Carter, 70, credits the schematic tweak — and his player’s embrace of it — as the key to the Panthers’ wildly successful campaign. They went 26-5 en route to a third consecutive Class 2A state title, clinched March 2 with a 41-38 victory over St. Luke’s Episcopal.

“It topped off a magnificent season,” said Carter, the 2017-18 All-Valley Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. “It’s the crowning of our work for this year.”

But it was far from the only highlight.

In December, Lanett competed at the renowned Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Carter viewed the trip as a step toward becoming the type of national caliber program he has always envisioned.

“I’ve had a team once that’s been ranked nationally when I was at Valley High School,” said Carter, a 48-year coaching veteran. “But I want to take this program to the point where we’re recognized nationally.”

After returning from the trip, Lanett dropped only two games from Jan. 1 to the end of the season. The Panthers fell to Central-Phenix City Jan. 2 and Russell County Jan. 6. Then, they embarked on a 16-game win streak that culminated in the hoisting of another blue map.

Along the way, Lanett posted 114 points in a lopsided victory against Horseshoe Bend, upended Central-Phenix City in a rematch and dispatched the state’s top-ranked teams in the Northeast Regional tournament.

The Panthers defeated No. 2 Vincent, 62-33, and No. 1 Section, 76-52.  Both teams —  but especially Vincent — struggled mightily against Lanett’s press defense. Many possessions resulted in turnovers before the ball crossed midcourt.

“We had an opportunity, and we seized that opportunity,” Carter said. “We took them to the woodshed.”

Lanett faced a tighter challenge in the state semifinals against Aliceville, but it still managed to snare a 75-64 victory. The Panthers’ toughest test, however, came a few days later in the state final.

Squaring off against a St. Luke’s team that refused to bow out, Lanett demonstrated unrelenting resolve to hang on for the narrow triumph.  Carter raised his hands in the air as the buzzer sounded at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.

Only nine other boys basketball teams in Alabama High School Athletic Association history have won three state championships in a row.

“I think it was the creme de la creme, the icing on the cake,” Carter said. “Here we are at the end, the true number one.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Carter didn’t catch a break after the state championship game. The pastor-coach officiated a funeral and preached a sermon on consecutive days following the victory.

If he has a moment of free time between now and next season, he said he would like to enjoy his favorite hobby, fishing. “My thing now is, I really want to get to the lake and catch me some crappie,” he said.

DID YOU KNOW?

Carter coached in 13 state final fours in two states before winning his first career title at Lanett in 2016.  Now, he was won three in a row. His career record as a coach in Alabama and Georgia is 656-118