Travion Kirkendoll knows the comparisons are inevitable, but he wants his team to blaze its own path.
Kirkendoll is the 6-foot-3 senior point guard for Lakeview, which is back in the Top 28 for the first time in a decade. The Gators lost in the semifinals in 2004, a year after they finished 41-0 and won the Class 2A championship.
He acknowledged this year’s group, which is the No. 2 seed in 2A and faces 14th-seeded St. James (20-12) at 2:45 p.m. today in the semifinals at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles, “will always be compared” to the 2003 team, but the desire to win is all its own.
“It’s not just for us, it’s for the community,” said Kirkendoll, who is known by his nickname “Tray” and averages 18 points and 10 assists per game.
Lakeview (27-4) has returned to its previous glory under second-year coach Josh Hancock, a former point guard for Mike McConathy at Northwestern State who also spent two seasons as McConathy’s assistant. The Gators hadn’t advanced out of the first round of the playoffs in seven seasons before Hancock guided them to the quarterfinals last year.and now they’re two wins away from the school’s second state championship.
Kirkendoll, whom Hancock said has interest from several Division I schools, is one of the key reasons for Lakeview’s success this season. He’s been the engine guiding the team. The Gators also feature 6-2 junior guard Tivonte “Tay” Hardy, who is averaging a team-leading 19 points per game and is “an unbelievable scorer,” Hancock said. Adrio Bailey, a 6-6 sophomore center, is another intriguing prospect who has caught the eyes of Division I schools.
But while it’s nice to have those three college prospects, Hancock said what makes his team most dangerous is its bench. The Gators have six players averaging in double figuresand can bring as many as 12 players into the game to attack opponents. That allows the Gators to remain fresh and relentlessly attack on defense.
“Our defense is what has gotten us to where we are,” said Hancock, who was the starting point guard on NSU’s first NCAA Tournament team in 2001.
“We play smart basketball,” Bailey said. “We have our ups and downs every now and then, and then we find a way to pull it together.”
Senior guard Ronald Bell said falling short of the Top 28 last season, when Lakeview lost to University in the quarterfinals, helped the team bond closer together. In fact, several of the Gators said the family atmosphere that Hancock has helped build is the team’s biggest strength.
“Last year we fell short, and I just felt like we embraced it,” Bell said. “We’ve been working hard for it.”
“We are fun to watch as a coach when we’re playing as we’re capable,” Hancock said.
Senior forward Charles Browder said Hancock has played a major role in driving this group, which features six seniors, deep in the playoffs. The coach has taught the players how to be a team, and Kirkendoll said he’s seen a major decrease in the Gators’ interest in themselves for the benefit of the team.
“We came together as one,” Kirkendoll said.
Hancock, however, deflected that praise and said he was lucky to be able to coach this team.
“I have a group of kids who are special,” he said. “They really jelled together and grew up together. I honestly can say I’m truly blessed to bin the position I’m in to coach these kids.”