Whether it was for the pure torture of it or to actually improve his Life Christian Academy boys basketball squad’s free-throw shooting, coach Mark Lovelady would bring out a ringer for practice.
And the message was simple: Make more free throws than my 11-year-old son, Luke, and you don’t have to run lines.
The end result for a 2009 team still a year away from the school’s last state playoff appearance was not pretty and usually exhausting. Luke, also a ballboy on the team, won more battles than he lost.
“One of my players finally asked me,” Mark Lovelady recalled years later, “if we could stop doing that drill.”
Well, maybe it is the longtime coach’s turn to bring out another ringer for his son and his team. Luke Lovelady is now the starting small forward for the Eagles, who are shaping up not only as the favorites for the 2B Pacific League’s North Division, but also as state-title contenders.
Even though it is his first season as a regular, the younger Lovelady is establishing himself as a high impact player. A 6-foot-6 sophomore, he leads the team in scoring (13.0 points), rebounding (9.8), assists (4.0), steals (4.6) and blocked shots (1.2).
And don’t even think about putting him at the free-throw line with the game on the line.
“My dad is excited for this year,” Luke said. “He knows we have a good group of guys with a mindset for state.”
Regardless of what happens, this is going to be a special season for the Lovelady family.
When Luke started progressing as a youth and started getting involved in AAU basketball, that is when Mark decided to step back, be a spectator and let his son experience coaching from others.
“My whole thought process, for that time period, was to just be his biggest fan,” Mark said.
And Luke has played for some of the better summer teams around — Tacoma City Hoopers with Jimmy Quins; True Elite with James Sampson; Team Washington with Tommy Stevens; Washington Warriors with Mike Rogers; and Team Access with Rachi Wortham (now at Oregon State) and Chris Spivey.
That doesn’t mean Luke isn’t used to his father’s relaxed, positively-constructive style of coaching. He has been around the Life Christian Academy program his entire life, including much of the time the Eagles went to the Class 1A state championships for six consecutive seasons (1996-2002).
Luke even recalls some of his father’s silly motivational stunts to his state-bound teams, including riding a skateboard to the Tacoma Dome.
“That was always kind of crazy,” Luke said. “I remember there was one season they made it to state, and his assistants shaved their heads — but he didn’t do that one.
“I mean, you can’t touch his hair.”
And there were times after games where a boy’s high-pitched voice could be heard cracking in the locker room.
Huddled up, when Mark would ask his players for instant postgame feedback, Luke — still the ballboy — would frequently provide his two cents about the effort.
“Luke did not mind raising his hand,” Mark said. “And he always said something positive and constructive.”
It never really hit Luke he was a varsity starter playing for his father until the Eagles’ home opener this season. That is when his name was announced, and he sprinted from the corridor outside the locker room and onto the court.
“He had been waiting 16 years to run through that tunnel,” the coach said. “And he gave me a funny handshake. As he called it, he was like a deer in headlights, almost as if it was an out-of-body experience.”