By Bill Sorrell
Scott Robinson does not drink coffee but with LeQuan Boyd in his first period class at Collierville High School he didn’t need to.
“He had a very infectious smile. He was always a joy to be around. When you are at school at 7:30 a.m. you need some pick-me-up. LeQuan always made the day brighter,” said Robinson, a teacher at Collierville and head boys basketball coach.
Boyd, 16, and his niece, Ashlynn Luckett, 6, died Jan. 21 after being shot Jan. 20 in a drive-by shooting in Hickory Hill. Boyd was a sophomore at Collierville. Luckett was a first-grader at Sycamore Elementary School.
Before Collierville’s game with Houston on Friday, a check from Robinson’s Dream 2 Discover You Foundation was presented to family members of LeQuan and Ashlynn to help offset funeral expenses.
Boyd was the cousin of A.J. Bates, a junior and forward for the Dragons. Some players, students and adults wore blue and pink T-shirts with the words “Gone Too Soon” and photos of LeQuan and Ashlynn and their birthdays and date of death.
Collierville senior forward Connor Phillips said Boyd’s and Luckett’s death hit the team hard.
“LeQuan was somebody everyone knew and a few were tight with him. All of us rallied around each other and spoke honorably about his life. The hashtag #LLQ which goes out to Long Live Quan can be seen everywhere from Instagram photos to sharpied on players’ basketball shoes. Everyone on the team has felt his death, especially his cousin A.J. It has become our mission to tribute our season to his death.”
Before Robinson’s mother died in August 2014 he started the foundation to honor her. She was a speech pathologist and taught speech-hearing in Danville, Indiana, Community Schools and was also a Lt. Col in the U.S. Army Reserve serving as an audiologist for the 337th General Hospital at Ft. Benjamin Harrison.
“My mom suffered from multiple sclerosis. Despite that she was still able to impact kids’ lives being a speech pathologist,” said Robinson, whose foundation tries to help young people “where we can.”
“The premise, the foundation’s aim, is to help discover their individual traits and be able to pursue their dreams,” he added. “I can’t imagine a 16-year old and a 6-year old not being able to discover their life. It’s been tough on our kids. We have had some other unfortunate circumstances with our program.”
David Brown, the father of JV player Gavin Brown, died on Dec. 14. He was 52.
“We have been through a lot as a program dealing with grief,” said Robinson. “It’s tough. You are trying to build that family culture, everyone goes through their own issues besides basketball.”
Basketball was played after the tribute to LeQuan and Ashlynn. Houston, ranked No. 2 in the state in the Associated Press AAA poll, defeated Collierville 82-44 in a District 15-AAA game.
The victory improved the Mustangs to 23-3, 9-0 in district, while the second-place Dragons are 16-9, 6-3.
Racing to a 12-0 lead on a 3-pointer by Zander Yates, a dunk by Faizon Fields, a put-back by Yates, a trey by Alex Marsh and a basket by T.J. Madlock, the Mustangs set the tone early.
“You always like to get going as early as possible and it was all started with our defense. We played really good defensively the first three or four minutes. We established ourselves defensively in the very beginning. That is what we needed to do. It gives you an opportunity to create some margin and then you try to get some flow into the game off of your defense and it’s pretty easy from there. We are talented. When we can create a volume of possessions it makes a big difference,” said Houston head coach Charlie Leonard. “I don’t think we ran five sets all night. It was a flow game and that is what you want. When you’ve got kids that can play like ours you want as much flow as possible.”
Trying to combat the Mustangs’ man-to-man defense was tough. The Dragons did not score until Jaylon Sanders hit a free throw with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
“It felt like there was a lid on the basket for the first quarter. The game got away from us pretty early. They got inside the paint and got to the free throw line and converted,” said Phillips, a statement echoed by Robinson.
“The goal got smaller and smaller. We weren’t able to break it open. Getting behind was tough. When you get behind those guys you are praying they don’t get the rebounds and they get every rebound. They are really, really good. They are going to be a state-contending team. They have some Division 1 players,” said Robinson.
Yates knew the Dragons would “come out hard. We had to set the tone right off the bat and match their intensity. That was our game plan. We like playing fast, getting the ball up the court.”
Three players combined for 43 of Houston’s points. Fields scored 17, Alden Applewhite 16, Mason Miller 10. Sanders scored a game-high 18 for Collierville.
“We played hard and played our game. We talked about we had to come out strong and couldn’t let them try to change our game up,” said Fields.
Houston out-rebounded the Dragons 45-22.
“It’s very hard to win when that happens,” said Phillips. “Houston has a lot of size with a lot of talent. The average height of their starting lineup is taller than our tallest player. They play very smart, concentrating their guys to deep in the paint and fighting for rebounds.”
Houston also nailed 18 of 25 free throws while the Dragons sank 11 of 24.
After Sanders made the Dragons’ first points, Marsh hit a trey for Houston and it was 15-1.
“When you are playing a team like them you can’t break down defensively. The first play of the game, they throw it in the post. If they score in the post, they score in the post but we don’t want to give up open threes because they have got a lot of shooters. We did that. We helped out. They threw it out, they made the first three (by Yates). Mental breakdowns you can’t have,” said Robinson.
Houston has had balanced scoring all year.
“It’s kind of funny. I got a ballot earlier today or yesterday for Gatorade Player of the Year and Triple A Player of the Year. None of my guys are going to have ridiculous numbers. Alden is our leading scorer right now (14). We have had games where Alden has had 4 and somebody else has had 20. We have got five guys who are capable of having a big night in a lot of different ways. It’s not a one man team,” said Leonard.
Madlock, Miller and Fields each average near 14 to 11 per game.
“We have got good shooters. The object is to get as many good shooters the opportunity from the free throw line as possible. When we attack the rim you have an opportunity to get some offensive rebounds and those are three-point plays and that puts the other team in a situation where they are playing their second team because there are going to be fouls. It’s a huge advantage for us,” said Leonard.
“Huge” size-wise, the Mustangs expanded their 19-7 first quarter lead in the second quarter. Phillips’ under-the-basket goal had cut the deficit to 19-9 before Houston scored eight straight points, six from Fields, including an alley-oop from Applewhite and four straight free throws. Madlock added two free throws and it was 27-9 before C.J. Wilson scored for Collierville.
Wilson added two more free throws to cut the lead to 30-13 and then Applewhite nailed two straight treys.
A great shot by Jordan Jenkins pulled the Dragons to within 36-15.
Marsh made an excellent shot for a 40-15 Houston lead and Miller’s offensive rebound and score expanded it to 42-18. An assist from Christian Clark to Hank Pearson gave Houston a 44-19 lead. Danny Perry’s steal led to his free throw and it was 44-20.
Joe Bubnick, Applewhite, Pearson put Houston up 51-20. Perry’s two free throws made it 51-22 at halftime. Applewhite led Houston scorers at halftime with 12 while Wilson and Sanders each had 6 for the Dragons.
At halftime Collierville students threw teddy bears toward half-court. These will be given to local charities. There was also a half-court shot contest between the schools. A Collierville student hit one.
Houston took a 35-point lead in the third quarter when Applewhite sank a trey and a free throw. Dribbling through defenders Yates made it 61-24 and it was a 40-point game, 66-26, with 2:50 left in the third when Fields scored his ninth point of the quarter.
A 3-pointer by Jenkins cut the lead to 66-29 before Miller’s trey and goal made it 71-29. Two straight treys by Sanders pulled Houston to within 73-36. A basket by Carson Goold gave Houston a 75-36 lead at the end of the third.
“In the second and third I thought we fought hard but made too many mistakes mainly because we were trying to catch up and match their fast pace. Ultimately whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins,” said Phillips.
Said Yates, “We try to come out hard and get that big lead so it is a cushion. You never really settle down until the fourth quarter.”
In the fourth, a steal by Wilson led to a layup by Marsh. Two free throws by Matthew Stokes, a basket by Goold, a 3-pointer by Will Stegall gave Houston a 40-point lead, 82-42 with 2:48 left. Braxton Crouse scored the Dragons’ final points.
“Houston is unbelievable. You have got to play a great game to be in the game against them,” said Robinson. “When they are making shots they are tough to beat, the best team in the state without a doubt.
“They do a great job defensively. They are so long and athletic. They contest every shot. They do a good job being in position. They did a great job talking. They do a great job at help-side. They are going to make you make jump shots being contested and you have got to make them.
“Coach Leonard does a great job with their program. For us we have to make our free throws. We missed some open shots early. When you are playing a team like Houston you have got to make your open shots because they are getting the rebound. I am hoping that the kids understand how important it is to come out ready to play and how we need everybody on the team to be successful.
“We have got to get better. It is part of the process. Tonight was not our best game, not our best showing. But it is part of life, you learn from your failures. My belief in our guys is the same. We are trying to get better as we head into postseason. We continue to fight and compete. We have been trying to get over that hump. We are making progress toward our goal at the beginning of the year. Our goals are still attainable.”
The Dragons’ goals were to finish above .500 for an overall record and in district and get to the regional tournament. A win over Southwind on Feb. 11 would have secured a regional appearance as the No. 2 seed.
Robinson said the Dragons have a no-quit attitude.
“Even though things were not going our way I felt like we didn’t give up. We continued to play hard throughout the game and fought,” said Sanders, who is 6-3 and the Dragons’ leading scorer averaging 16 points. “Our fight just wasn’t enough as we tried to turn the game around.
“Houston played more together as a team than we did, moved the ball, out-rebounded us, got 50/50 balls, knocked down open shots. Their energy was different and if felt like we didn’t match it.
“We have been in these positions before. I try to encourage my teammates to keep fighting, out-work our opponents, talk on defense, make the opponent feel uncomfortable and play together as a whole so we can get the W.”
After Houston defeated Collierville 87-59 on Jan. 17, the loss was so disappointing that Sanders cried.
“That was one of the most hurtful losses I’ve ever took in my life. I told myself I was going to remember that feeling and go even harder the next time that we play them. This game I came out with a different mindset. I really wanted to win. We came up short but I gave it all I could,” said Sanders, who plays with a memory.
“A wise man Fredric Stringer of Hickory Ridge Middle always told me to be a leader and never a follower. I will hold everyone accountable and make sure no one is taking any plays off, encourage everyone to make every possession count and not hold anything back. Give it all they have as if it is their last game ever in their lives. You only get one chances to play high school ball. There aren’t any do-overs.”
The Mustangs have improved since the beginning of the season. Their three losses have been to Olive Branch (55-40), Bartlett (60-59 in overtime), Gary, Indiana, West Side (57-52). The win over Collierville was their 13th straight.
“The three games we lost were pretty much hard games,” said Fields. “We played pretty hard. We are pretty much used to big wins but we don’t really care about the scoreboard. Our coach tells us all the time at halftime don’t play the scoreboard, play to the end. We play our game, we hope to come out on top.”
Fields’ goal is to play in college and beyond.
“I want to play basketball for the rest of my life. I think I have a big chance on doing that,” he said. East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee State, other Tennessee schools and Texas schools have been looking at him. He has not yet committed.
Yates was impressed with Fields’ play.
“I thought Faizon had a great game. We tried to feed him,” said Yates, a junior who moved to Memphis two years ago from Ohio.
He and Miller have been starting since their freshman year.
“They are coming of age,” said Leonard. “That is huge for your team.”
The Mustangs have a versatile lineup filled with skill.
“We have been playing a lot of guys all year. Faizon is the only senior that starts. Alex Marsh started tonight. Hank Pearson comes off the bench. He is really solid. Joe (Bubnick), Carson (Goold), Chris (Clark) do a great job of mixing in minutes. I have got good leadership from my seniors. We would be hard pressed to give up any one of them. We had a chance to play some younger ones longer minutes tonight,” said Leonard, whose sophomores have played with consistency.
Adding to Houston’s point total were Marsh with 8, Yates 7, Goold 6, Pearson 6, Madlock 4, Stegall 3, Bubnick 2, Stokes 2, Clark 1.
Jenkins scored 7 for Collierville, Wilson 7, Perry 5, Phillips 4, Crouse 2, Chris Baker 2, Jordan Coleman 1.
“To have success we want to have everybody together where we get 6, 8, 10 points from different pieces. We have to be able to attack the basket and make open shots,” said Robinson.
Helping the Mustangs attack the basket is Applewhite, who Leonard called “an awfully good player.”
With Houston players growning up playing in the AAU circuit they have developed a closeness.
Fields said, “I have enjoyed bonding with my teammates and having fun times.”
One characteristic of Leonard’s teams is efficient shooting. Ten minutes before practice and 20 minutes after practice, players shoot free throws. Occasionally players will have to make 25 free throws before leaving.
During games, “We take a lot of shots. If the shots are not falling we change it up and get to the rim,” said Yates.
Leonard said that it is a matter of finishing.
“You have got to finish plays, finish practice, finish everything you do. That gives you an opportunity,” he said.
The Mustangs, winners of 22 games last season including the district tournament after finishing second in the regular season, will be favored to win the district tournament again.
The Dragons will enter the tournament with a chip on their shoulders said Sanders. “It will bring the best out of us.”
With offers from Pittsburg State, Murray State, Arkansas State, Sanders is more of a shooter who is athletic.
“I love to attack the defense and make the defender feel uncomfortable. I’m also a shot blocker and love to get my teammates involved,” he said.
Phillips, who is the leading rebounder along with senior forward Matt Cox at 5 per game, has changed the way he has played with the new offensive scheme.
“I worked hard in the off-season to gain muscle which has made me a presence in the post. I also learned how to use my body whether it is screening, getting rebounds or getting in the way of opponents. I’m constantly looking to get my guys open,” said Phillips, who has been surprised by how versatile the team is.
“Everyone plays uniquely different and Coach will play the players with the right skills depending on who we are playing and our game plan.”
Sanders said, “The coach has made adjustments since the beginning of the season and we haven’t let up at all. We’ve been grinding. We kicked off to a tremendous start.”
This is Robinson’s first season at Collierville. He along with Leonard both coached in college. Leonard was head coach at Christian Brothers for seven years. Robinson was head coach at Victory (formerly Crichton College) from 2010-2014. His teams were 82-47. He then coached at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven, Florida, where his record was 76-30.
“This is a great opportunity, something that I couldn’t pass up, and get back to Memphis,” said Robinson, who got his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Memphis. “I love basketball and Memphis basketball is really good.”
While coaching in college is “a lot different” than in high school, Robinson said it is about the relationships with players.
“That is why I love to coach,” he said. “We have a great group of guys who have been competing every day to get better and are trying to build this program. We have a lot of good guys who have something to prove. I am proud to be their coach. I get excited to go to practice every day to get better because there is nothing like being part of a team to come together to have the success that you want to have.
“When you are trying to get to that level (Houston) you have to get better. Our goal is to get better every day. We have some work to do but I really like the direction where we are going and if we continue to do that we will be right where we need to be come tournament time.”
The season has been one of transition with the new coaching staff.
“Coach Scott has been an excellent administrator when it comes to getting our program out to the world. On the court we’ve worked hard and put in the hours to get to where we are. The team has had a total transformation from last year,” said Phillips.
Said Sanders, “Coach Scott is an amazing coach. With being a former college coach and having great coaching experience and coming from winning programs we all felt he would start a new tradition here which would lead to a tremendous legacy.”
The Mustangs want to leave a legacy.
“We really want to win state. Everybody is putting us up in first place or whatever (in polls),” said Yates. “We are trying to ignore that because we haven’t accomplished anything. State is our main goal. We are doing it for our seniors.”