Munching on a chocolate chip cookie, Christian Brothers High School boys’ basketball coach Bubba Luckett savored the sweet victory he had just experienced.
The Purple Wave’s 64-40 Division 2-AA West victory over St. Benedict on Friday at CBHS was a milestone. It was Luckett’s 600th career victory, all at his alma mater.
Head coach at CBHS for 30 years and an assistant for seven, Luckett joined Wes Henning of Ridgeway and Fred Horton of Whitehaven, who are still active Memphis coaches with 600 or more wins.
“To be able to coach as long as I have at my alma mater and having the opportunity to coach at the school where I played has been a real honor,” said Luckett, a 1979 graduate. “It’s the best way I could stay around the game. Obviously, my eligibility as a player ran out. I couldn’t get away from it.”
At the end of the game he was presented a plaque and surrounded by well-wishers, including his players.
“It means a lot to me to be a small part of Coach Luckett’s illustrious coaching career. We didn’t have this milestone in mind going into the game but as we celebrated when the game ended, I really just reflected on it. I’m very fortunate to be part of this program,” said CBHS junior guard Reese McMullen, who did his part in the win, scoring a team-high 17 points along with sophomore guard Chandler Jackson. “We congratulated him a lot. There were lots of people who came to the game just to witness and congratulate him.”
Said Jackson, “He does so much for us. To be part of this milestone with him is amazing. Everyone was congratulating him and so was I because he deserves all the love he got Friday.”
Eli Federman, CBHS junior guard, called Luckett’s 600th, which came on Valentine’s Day, “a huge accomplishment. That is very rare so getting to play for this team is really special. It’s nice to be able to play for such an experienced, winning coach.”
The winningest boys’ basketball coach in Memphis is the late Jerry Peters, who coached Memphis University School. He had 1,001 victories.
Terry Tippett, who coached at White Station and Evangelical Christian School, had 902; Horton has 716; Sylvester Ford, who coached most of his 40-year career at Fairley, had 687; Jimmy Adams, who coached at Central and Raleigh-Egypt, had 652; Henning has won 619.
St. Benedict head coach Rob Sabau said that Luckett “is a great coach, a class act.”
Luckett has won with teams that stress defense, skill development and a strong work ethic in practice that leads to improvement.
“Improvement is a huge tenet of our program,” said McMullen. “From freshman year I’ve improved in many different ways. I’ve gotten stronger, more athletic and more skilled since I stepped on campus. Coach Luckett and his staff make our gym and facilities accessible virtually 24/7 and they are always encouraging us to work. Coach Luckett preaches effort and defense, which has brought us success this season.”
Jackson said, “He is a great coach and he pushes us to be better and improve our game each day in practice, telling us to go hard in drills.”
Luckett said, “What really fuels my passion is wanting my school to be recognized as one of the better basketball programs in the city. What I am most proud of we have sustained success. Some teams every now and then are good but they don’t do much. I think when people see us on their schedule they know they are going to have to play. As a former athlete you maintain that competitive spirit.”
Luckett has helped his players with everything from shot form to knowledge of the game said Federman.
“Off the court he tries to help us with accountability. He tells us that grades are the most important thing in our lives and he encourages us to think about life after basketball. He directly relates basketball and playing for a coach to having a job with a boss,” Federman said.
The Purple Wave is 18-10, 3-2 in the division with a match-up against MUS at 7:30 p.m. Friday. St. Benedict is 14-12, 0-5 in division, and will host Briarcrest at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Both the Eagles and Purple Wave started slow. The first quarter ended 7-5. Bobby Westbrooks, a junior guard at St. Benedict who would finish with a game-high 19 points, put the Eagles ahead 5-3 before McMullen and Harrison Kelly gave CBHS its 7-5 lead.
“The score was low in the first quarter because both teams were playing great defense and we both missed a lot of jump shots,” said Westbrooks.
Said Luckett, “We couldn’t knock a shot down in the first quarter.”
CBHS never trailed after Kelly scored his fifth of the 15 points he would get in the game with 6:40 left in the second quarter for a 10-8 lead. The Brothers would take a 22-13 halftime lead fueled by points from Jackson, Ashton Strother, McMullen and Kelly. Westbrooks scored seven for SBA while Aramani Brooks, a junior guard, added one.
“The turning point of the game was the second quarter. They made a big run and didn’t look back,” said Westbrooks.
Sabau said, “They came out second half and made shots and we didn’t.”
At halftime, Luckett told players to take the right shots and be more patient before attempting them.
“We weren’t running our stuff correctly,” said Luckett.
A junior guard, Kelly and SBA’s Jordan Stephens, a senior guard, sparked their teams in the third. Federman gave CBHS its first 10-point lead, 24-14, at 6:24. A 3-pointer by Kelly with 5:07 left expanded the lead to 31-17. Chandler added a basket before Kelly scored again and it was 35-17. Kelly scored 8 in the quarter. Stephens scored five free throws in the quarter and hit a field goal and a trey and would finish the game with 10 points. CBHS led 46-29 at the end of the third.
“Bobby Westbrooks and Jordan Stephens really played well. Jordan is a great guy. I have played with him three years in high school. I only have good things to say about him. Jordan has got a little bit of swagger to him and when he gets going he is going to be knocking them down,” said SBA senior guard Dante Carrasco. “When he is not necessarily making all the shots he is always facilitating. It’s always a fun time playing with him. Bobby is a junior so he is going to be a standout wherever he is playing.”
Westbrooks called Stephens and Carrasco difference makers.
“Jordan was being very aggressive and looking for open players. Dante made great defensive plays,” he said.
The keys to Westbrooks’ success have been increased strength and an improved jump shot, he said.
“I have taken a more dominant and aggressive role offensively and defensively because in the past my role was more of a spot-up shooter.”
Kelly is one of the best shooters in town, said Luckett.
“He is a very good athlete and already is a big part of our team. We expect him to have more of an impact next year. When you have him on the floor it really stretches the defense and it gives other people room to do something.”
Jackson opened the fourth quarter with a basket followed by McMullen’s goal and free throw. McMullen made it a 20-point lead, 52-32, with 4:32 left, with his free throw before Kelly sank two free throws for a 54-32 lead.
Eagles sophomore guard Chip Brunt hit a free throw and the Brothers scored four straight points on free throws, one by McMullen, two by Federman, and one by Strother. Kenner Sffernel made it a 60-36 game before Colin Scifres increased it to 62-38. Brooks scored the Eagles’ final points after Westbrooks had hit an earlier basket. Zion Owens’ basket gave CBHS its 64th point.
The difference, said Sabau, was second-half scoring by CBHS.
“The first half both teams’ defense was really, really good. Neither team shot a very good percentage. In the second half they shot the ball a lot better than we did.”
Carrasco said, “The first quarter we played really well defensively but then we are off shooting, myself included. I didn’t make a single field goal attempt. We started to break down on defense in the second quarter and especially in the second half we started rushing our shots. We didn’t get back on defense and they started getting buckets in transition. In the first half most of their points were from transition from our mistakes. We still have to play 32 minutes.”
The defensive breakdowns allowed CBHS to make easy layups and open threes.
Luckett said, “I think our defense was really good. The factor that won the game for us was our defense. We thought if we defended well, we could afford to have a mediocre offensive night. We made them take tough shots. We finally got our offense rolling in the second half, late in the second quarter really. What turned the game around was when we started making shots. Neither team was scoring much early but we finally got in some kind of rhythm offensively.”
Federman scored 4; Strother 5; Nemo Ausley, 2; Scifres, 2; and Sernel, 2. For the Eagles Brunt added 4; Brooks, 3; Gary Bair, 2; and Adam Barbieri, 2.
To get his 17, Jackson hit 7 of 10 field goals and 3 of 7 free throws. McMullen hit 3 of 5 field goals, 2 of 6 treys, and 5 of 7 free throws for his 17. Kelly sank 4 of 6 field goals, 2 of 5 3-pointers and one free throw for his 15.
Westbrooks’ 19 came on 7 of 10 field goals, 5 of 9 free throws. Stephens attempted four field goals and made one.
CBHS made 20 of 29 field goals, 4 of 15 3-pointers, and 12 of 19 free throws. SBA made 11 of 22 field goals, 1 of 17 treys and 15 of 25 free throws. Some of the missed free throws were at key points during the game.
“We are either really good from the free throw line or really bad, and tonight we were really bad,” said Sabau.
The Purple Wave employs a man-to-man defense with a small amount of zone, which was played in one game this season.
“Defense plays a large role on any team but it’s huge for us. We have scorers like Reese and Chandler so we know we are going to put up enough points to win the game if we play good disciplined defense. We have a good chance to beat any team on our schedule,” said Federman, who was concerned about stopping the Eagles. “They have really good ball movement and their patience helps them get great looks nearly every possession.”
CBHS shook off its slow start.
“When we run our offense well it is very effective. It is set up to have lots of threats. I think once we got settled offensively and started making shots is when we started making separation and our lead ballooned. Our defense was steady throughout the game,” said McMullen. “We are accustomed to holding teams to low totals.”
Said Luckett, “They are hard-nosed kids that compete hard and they listen to us and we told them if we were to win the game that we needed to defend well, and they did.”
Jackson said, “We listen to the coaches’ game plan. We probably have the best coaching staff in our division. If we listen to them, we will win.”
The victory put the Purple Wave second in the West. They will play the winner of Brentwood Academy and Montgomery Bell Academy in the first round of the playoffs. They topped MBA 61-46 Dec. 6.
The Eagles did not qualify for the playoffs and will end their season against Briarcrest.
“We are going to play to win our last game together as seniors. We have been playing for several years and some of us since 10 years old,” said Carrasco. “It is going to be an emotional night regardless. We will definitely play hard for each other and hopefully come out on top.”
Sabau said, “They are a good group. I enjoy coaching them. We are going to go out on a high note.”
For Middlebrooks it was a low note Friday.
“The game against CBHS was very upsetting for me. We all played together and fought hard but it just didn’t go our way,” said Westbrooks. “Keys to our success this year are not giving up when we are down and our great defense.”
Sabau said, “They showed they are resilient. They keep fighting all the way to the end.”
What has been difficult for SBA has been injuries to key players. Brunt broke his wrist the second week of practice and missed a stretch of games. Carrasco injured his right hand and missed five games. Westbrooks missed some games because of injury.
“When we have all been healthy, we have played well together,” said Carrasco. “The team has come together even through our losses. Most games we lost were close games. Tonight was an exception but the camaraderie on the team this year was unlike any year before. Everybody enjoys each other’s company. Everybody is super tight.”
The season has been fun, said Westbrooks, but disappointing because of lack of success in region games.
“We have beaten some very good teams. Our goals for next year are to win as many games as possible, win the region, then gain a lot of momentum into the playoffs and win the state championship.”
The Brothers have progressed this season because of maturity and handling pressure better than they did earlier in the year.
“We have got really good senior leadership. The one thing that people may not know about our team we have some guys that are better shooters than some people think,” said Luckett. “From a scoring standpoint Reese (16 points per game) and Chandler (17 points per game) carry the team. We are at our best when other guys play really well. Defensively seniors Sam Spence and Spencer Stalnaker collectively do a good job.”
McMullen added Strother to the list of players who help CBHS.
“Ashton gave us great defensive minutes against one of their best players, and he finished some key plays on offense. Sam is always consistent with his effort on both ends and is a great communicator on the floor. Spencer also gave really good defensive minutes and was great moving the ball in our offense. I have enjoyed bonding with my teammates. This is one of the most fun teams I’ve been a part of. Our camaraderie shows on the court,” said McMullen, who did not anticipate the team being as good offensively. “Usually it’s our defense that we can rely on to keep us competitive in games.”
Federman said, “We have improved all aspects of our team throughout the season but the most significant improvement is our offense. We put in a new motion offense that allows everyone to be more involved and we have become more patient with the ball. The most unique aspect of our team is our size. We are the smallest that CBHS has had in a while and we usually play all guards.”
Sabau said that Jackson is “the difference in my opinion. He makes them go. He is really hard to guard. I thought we guarded him really well and he still made baskets. He is really good.”
Jackson’s strength is getting to the rim. There are others.
“I can make the dribble, pull up in someone’s face and I can make the three ball when needed. The goal of everyone is to get better of course. My goal is to keep improving my three ball and keep polishing the things I’m good at and get more coaches to look at me,” said Jackson.
Assistant coach Brad Luckett has helped him, he said, by doing skill work along with an AAU coach who is helping him each week with shooting.
McMullen has gained a reputation for being a good shooter off the bounce.
“I’ve also excelled in getting to the rim this season using my quickness. I take pride in my defense and I view myself as a very good perimeter defender. I’ve gotten good at anticipation and using my quickness to get steals.”
Neither Brentwood Academy nor MBA will be overlooked.
“Our biggest hurdle is our first round game,” said McMullen.
The win over SBA provided confidence.
“We will build off the win mentally because beating a league opponent by 24 is difficult. It will prepare us by showing us what we could improve on and are doing well. No team is ever perfect so every single game is a learning opportunity whether it is a win or a loss,” said Federman, who also plays lacrosse.
The Purple Wave defeated their biggest rival MUS 43-39 Jan. 31.
“It is a respectable rivalry, a true rivalry because we both win. It’s not one-sided. We have played for years,” said Luckett. “Hopefully some momentum that we gained in the second quarter will get us through and maintain our good defense.”
A goal for McMullen is to win a state championship, which he knows is attainable.
“We also know that we have to be near perfect to get one. I would like to win at least one before I graduate. I plan on playing Division 1 basketball after high school. My goal is to pick up more offers this summer,” he said.
One of Luckett’s most memorable games was in 1987 when CBHS won the state championship when he was an assistant coach under Charlie Leonard, now head coach at Houston.
The Purple Wave were state runner-up in 2015 after letting one “slip away” to Brentwood Academy.
Both teams had spirited student sections on Friday. With a theme each game, CBHS students wore pink, and SBA students wore togas.
“Two years ago we beat CBHS at CBHS. The theme of the night was toga. As a tradition since then every time we play them at their place we wear togas,” said Carrasco. “We have a great student section. They are a lot of fun. They love to hackle the players. There is nothing like playing in front of a student section and a great fan base that you really respect. They were loud tonight and brought a lot of energy to this team. Even in hallways after a tough loss they are always encouraging us to keep it up. They say they really enjoy watching us play. You play the best team ball we have seen in quite some time.”
Said Federman, “School spirit and school pride has a huge impact on our team because every positive play we make causes the crowd to go crazy. We just have a lot of support and it gives us a nice advantage especially when we are home.”
Luckett said of CBHS students, “They will have fun in the bleachers.”
Fun for Westbrooks was watching Brooks take three steps then try to do a euro step into layup and was called for a travel this season.
McMullen laughed when Kelly dunked on someone and the play went viral.
“People on social media called him Zac Efron,” said McMullen.
Both schools are Catholic, and faith has played a role for players.
“Faith is very important in my family. My grandpa (Billy Jackson) made sure I know I can’t do anything on or off the court without God and I know that now thanks to him,” said Jackson. “I try to go to church every Sunday.”
McMullen said, “Faith impacts my game. We pray as a team before and after every game, regardless of the outcome. Coach Luckett always prays that we all conduct ourselves in a way that pleases God. That’s what we try to do.”
A member of Hope Church, Federman said, “My faith is important to me because if I have a bad game or anything isn’t going the way I want it to, I always know that basketball isn’t the most important thing in my life and that God has a plan.”
Westbrooks, who attends Life Church, said, “I am a very prayerful person. I pray every day and thank God before every game for giving me this ability to play the game I love.”