As the 2016-17 high school basketball progressed, Darrell Lockhart knew there was potential for big things at Upson-Lee.
As it turned out, he was right, and since official practice started in October until the clock at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion struck zero a little after 9:30 p.m. on March 10, he has lived the dream season of a basketball coach.
After an undefeated season and a state championship, comes the latest honor: The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. The Knights walked off the McCamish court with that trophy a little more than six weeks ago, and Upson County is still celebrating that season and championship.
“It’s still going on,” the Thomaston native said. “It’s still going on. I haven’t had a real break yet.”
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There were, of course, a huge parade and celebration, days after a town-wide sendoff on game day to Atlanta.
“All the schools lined up, all the schools in Thomaston had kids lined up on the side of the road,” Lockhart said. “When we went through, they were cheering, and I had some of the guys on the bus were tearing up.”
Lockhart has speaking engagements, and there is no lack of invitations to the team to talk to younger kids and adults. And everybody wants to show their appreciation.
“The town gave us a parade, the community gave us a party,” Lockhart said. “We had a few churches that wanted to do the same thing. The town has been excited.”
Lockhart isn’t one to get too amped up, angry, emotional or sentimental, and he isn’t one to throw around hyperbole.
“I can’t wrap my arms around it,” he said. “I played ball all my life, we won games, won big games, we got a European championship, and there was a celebration. But this is going on and on and on. It’s not a bad thing; it’s really not.”
A late-season game gave Lockhart a hint of how big the season was becoming.
“I knew we were on to something with that game down at Perry,” he said of a 42-25 win over the Panthers on Feb. 3. “I looked up, and I saw old faces coming into that gym that I hadn’t seen since I was playing high school ball.”
And that was awhile ago.
The Knights were led by somebody who had been in their shoes, although the feet at the bottom of a 6-foot-9 frame are likely a little bigger. Lockhart played at old Robert E. Lee, graduating in 1979. He then went to Auburn and started at forward all four years — averaging between 8.8 and 13 points and 5.4 and 6.4 rebounds per game — playing two seasons with Charles Barkley.
And, well, he has his own Wikipedia page, which notes that he was the 35th pick of San Antonio in 1983 and went on to play for 10 different teams in Europe, finally retiring in 1998.
Lockhart has had something of a vision on how a season like this would play out.
“If I get one all-state player here, I’ve got a chance to make some noise,” Lockhart said. “Through the years, I’ve watched all these teams get way up in the state playoffs, and every last one of them had that one player that set them apart.
“I knew if I could get at least one player, I could do something. I’ve got that, and I’ve some more good players, too.”
The focal point was Tye Fagan, but the Knights could strike from anywhere: Zyrice Scott and Mikey Smith on the perimeter or driving; Travon Walker, an SEC-caliber defensive end who didn’t play basketball like one; Kentrez Traylor, a defender who missed the latter part of the season with an injury; and Fagan all over the place.
And of the seniors, only Traylor and Smith were in the primary rotation.
“The eyes are on us now,” said Lockhart, who remains fairly stunned at the fact that the championship game was played to an overflow crowd in a major-college arena. “Every time we play a game, we’re going to have the whole city of Thomaston or right there on the radio.”